Here's how the Obama administration wants to regulate self-driving cars

September 20, 2016

The Obama administration has finally outlined its plans for legislating self-driving cars, a strong indication that automated vehicles will proliferate the highways of tomorrow.

In an unusual step, the President offered his thoughts in a column published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the hometown newspaper for a city that finds itself the unexpected center of the self-driving car movement thanks to a partnership between Uber and Carnegie Melon University. The first self-driving Uber car, a Ford Fusion, is now on the road in Pittsburgh. 

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Department of Transportation regulators have so far only offered a relatively high-level view broken down into four key points:

  • A 15-point design and development standard for self-driving vehicle safety
  • An intention for states to develop a consistent, uniform policy for self-driving cars
  • A clarification of how existing regulator rules will be applied to autonomous vehicles
  • The potential for future regulations

In terms of vehicle design, the 15-point standard is most crucial to automakers. It places major emphasis on providing protection for passengers in the event of a collision, ensuring that vehicles are not susceptible to hacking attacks, and figuring out how vehicles will interact with each other and with "drivers." 

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The DoT's assessment covers "ethical considerations" to address how vehicles will "address conflict dilemmas" on roads.

By no means are today's guidelines comprehensive, but they provide a concrete look at how the federal government will begin to regulate self-driving cars over the next few years. Regulation has long been considered a bigger hurdle than product development, as the self-driving Fusion running around Pittsburgh indicates. 

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