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Feds Release Guidelines on Safety of Self-Driving Cars

The futuristic self-driving car we’ve all seen in the movies is quickly becoming a reality. Google will be testing its self-driving prototype this year. Mercedes, Tesla and BMW have released or will soon release autopilot features to allow a car to drive itself. More recently, Uber announced plans for a driverless fleet and, in some markets, the vehicles are already on the road. Given this growing industry, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has released its long-awaited guidelines for self-driving vehicles. The guidelines announced this week are not official regulations, but will likely serve as a framework for future regulations as a growing number of automakers and tech innovators look to develop self-driving technology.

The New York Times provided the following summation of the new guidelines:

“The new guidelines...targeted four main areas. The Department of Transportation announced a 15 point safety standard for the design and development of autonomous vehicles; called for states to come up with uniform policies applying to driverless cars; clarified how current regulations can be applied to driverless cars; and opened the door for new regulations on the technology.

The 15 point safety assessment covers a range of issues, including how driverless cars should react if their technology fails, what measures to put in place to preserve passenger privacy, and how occupants will be protected in crashes. The points also include how automakers should approach the digital security of driverless vehicles, and how a car can communicate with passengers and other road users.

The agency also urged driverless car manufacturers to show how their technology is validated and how they would share data collected by the vehicles. The Department of Transportation also said it would assert its authority to recall semiautonomous and fully autonomous vehicles that it found to be unsafe.”

DOT noted data about car accidents in their report: In 2015, 35,092 people died on roadways, with 94% those crashes due to human error. Thus, the potential for self-driving cars to reduce or eliminate car accidents is one of the major reasons why the Obama Administration has endorsed self-driving technology. The technology, however, is still in its early stages and, in light of recent accidents involving semiautonomous vehicles, car manufacturers, tech companies, and the federal government must ensure the vehicles are safe. The guidelines announced this week are a welcome first step, but specific regulations are necessary in order to ensure public safety.

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