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US regulator green lights self-driving car research with $4Bn cheque

With US road deaths equivalent to “one 747 crashing each week” the US Government and NHTSA agree to speed up the roll out of self-driving cars

With automakers and technology companies rushing to develop self-driving cars, the Obama administration has pledged to expedite regulatory guidelines for autonomous vehicles and invest in research to help bring them to market.

Until now, the federal government has taken a hands-off approach to regulating new technology that allows vehicles to operate independently and without an actual driver.

But in a recent announcement Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said the government would remove hurdles to developing autonomous vehicles and set further guidelines for them by the end of this year.

“We are bullish on autonomous vehicles,” Mr. Foxx said, “the actions we are taking today bring us up to speed.”


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The government’s new support includes a request in President Obama’s proposed budget for the next fiscal year for $4 billion, to be spent over 10 years, to finance research projects and infrastructure improvements tied to driverless cars. Mr. Foxx said that autonomous vehicles had the potential to reduce traffic accidents and significantly improve safety on America’s roads. He estimated that as many as 25,000 deaths could have been avoided last year if driverless technology had been in widespread use.

“We are entering a new world here, and we know it,” he said.

At the announcement, Mr. Foxx was flanked by executives of several carmakers and tech companies, including Google, which has been testing its autonomous vehicles on California roads since last year.

The executives welcomed the government’s proposed investment and its fast-track approach to developing a framework for regulating driverless models.

“It takes real collaboration with our regulators so this is done right and done safely,” said Mark Reuss, head of global product development at General Motors, the nation’s largest auto manufacturer.

Mr. Foxx said the government expected to issue guidance to companies within six months on the functions that autonomous vehicles must be able to perform to be considered safe.


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He said the government already had authority to allow limited deployment of 2,500 autonomous vehicles by an individual company for a two-year period.

In addition, he urged companies to seek interpretations of existing federal vehicle standards from regulators for new technologies under development.

He cited one such case, in which regulators recently confirmed that a remote, self-parking system developed by the German automaker BMW met federal standards.

“This is the right way to drive innovation,” said Mr. Foxx, adding that federal regulators were also working with various states to create a consistent national policy for driverless cars.

Several automakers have vowed to have autonomous cars ready for consumers to buy within the next 10 years. But without guidance from regulators, companies have been uncertain about the legal environment that awaits their new vehicles.“The industry is anxious to have a framework, particularly in terms of safety,” Mr. Reuss said.

Mr. Foxx declined to say whether he expected bipartisan support for the proposed $4 billion driverless-car investment in the president’s budget.

He also said the government needed to address other related issues about the vehicles over the next six months.

“There are liability issues that need to be thought through,” he said. “We’ve got to do several things at once.”

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