Commercialized Self-Driving Cars Gain Powerful Ally: The US Government

The United States government has warmly embraced self-driving cars. Since 2013, the attitude has been positive because it is eager to see this technology on the road. At first, the Obama administration was cautious about the safety of the vehicles. It required extensive safety research to be done and used strict legal definitions that were prohibitory in some ways. Now in 2016, the attitude towards the technology is trusting and open. $4 billion has been pledged by the government for doing further research into self-driving cars and for developing them. President Obama himself wrote an editorial for a national newspaper in which he said that autonomous vehicles could result in thousands of lives being saved annually. His new policies towards them were tailored to be flexible with the new technological advances. According to driverless-future, despite the government’s favorable new attitude, there are still misconceptions about the new technology by the general public.

Deaths in Self-Driving Cars

Every year, there are about 40,000 car accident related fatalities. Last year alone was the highest total since 2008. Driver safety on the road is a major concern. New guidelines from the government governing self-driving cars emphasized passenger safety. Since this technology is new, it opens the door to new lifesaving technology that can be deployed autonomously. Bigthink.com claims that, that Google’s self-driving cars are very safe according to the latest data. According to Karl Brauer of the Kelley Blue Book, the industry is in a strange period of transition. Automakers want to get the new technology onto the market, but they don’t want to make mistakes by rushing development.

Other regulations

Aside from regulations by the federal government, self-driving cars must deal with regulation from state governments. More than 12 states have made laws that address self-driving cars on the road. For the majority of them, a driver with a license must be in the car at all times. This makes it harder for automakers to test their cars across the country. States are not ready to let up with their regulations requiring a human driver to be in the vehicle during testing and a requirement for insurance. The U.S. Department of Transportation is consulting with state governments about their regulations. It wants to create consistency that allows automakers to innovate as much as possible. It would be disastrous for some states to have much harsher restrictions than others. You might find car occupants running into trouble once they cross over state lines.

Automaker Reaction

Companies like Google, Tesla, Uber and Ford have a welcoming attitude towards the government’s guidelines. Venturebeat says, that Ford aims to put fully autonomous cars on the market by the year 2021. It aims at ride-sharing. It likes how the regulations help to create a national framework for the safe rollout of self-driving cars. Ford sees issues with state-level regulation but hopes to work those out by cooperating with state governments. A trade organization representing Lyft, Uber and Google made a statement in which it said that state governments should do their utmost to cooperate with the federal government. If this cooperation does not occur, it could threaten America’s status as the leading innovator in the realm of self-driving cars.

Groups that serve as advocates for consumers expressed encouragement that the government was putting the safety of the public first with the new regulations. They felt that the pressure put on companies to make the vehicles safe was adequate and was conducive to the establishment of proper safety laws. Companies have largely operated in secret until now to protect their intellectual property, but it will be necessary for them to be more open to guarantee the rights of consumers who use their products. There is a minor danger that the government’s regulations could result in weaker laws being implemented by states. Consumer groups feel this is not ideal. Insurance rates in CA are a concern as well. How will insurance companies react to self-driving cars being on the road? They may have higher or lower rates depending on the liability they represent.

By: Vincent Stokes 

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