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NHTSA Sets Federal Regulations for Self-Driving Cars

By: Tierney BranniganSeptember 23, 2016
Hands off the wheel! The NHTSA has set its regulations on self-driving cars.

Not too long ago, self-driving cars only seemed suited for the roads of the very distant future, as science fiction provided the only glimpses into what this new technology might be like. Now, as the autonomous automobile dream begins to take a very real form, regulations and reality are starting to set in.

Just this week the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released its first official set of regulations around the technology and operation of self-driving cars.  These new laws are aimed at the manufacturers producing driverless vehicles and companies like Uber and Lyft, which have expressed interest in using them.

Included in the 116-page policy document are regulations concerning:

  • Shared crash and safety data across the automobile industry, to ensure continual improvement to the design and function of self-driving cars.
  • A safe vehicle design specific to the risks that come with operating an autonomous vehicle.
  • Comprehensive cybersecurity policies to prevent ill-doers from hacking into the shared network of driverless cars’ computing systems.
  • Training programs for the dealers, companies, and consumers intent on buying driverless vehicles.
  • Ability of the self-driving car to follow all traffic laws specific to the state that it’s in.
  • Developing automated solutions to ethically-challenging situations (e.g. if someone is standing in the middle of the road, should the car swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid hitting them?).

Self-driving cars came into popularity seemingly overnight. With ever-increasing levels of traffic and accidents on the road, more and more people are losing the drive to actually drive themselves. As this tidal wave of curiosity and support around autonomous vehicles continues to grow, the federal government has had no choice but to start paying attention.

While laying out the framework for the new regulations, the DOT’s secretary, Anthony R. Foxx, outlined the importance of first asking, “Will [autonomous cars] fully replace the human driver? What ethical judgments will they be called upon to make? What socioeconomic impacts flow from such a dramatic change? Will they disrupt the nature of privacy and security?”

Ethical considerations around the autonomous automobile industry are expected to play a key role in the future of self-driving cars. Of course, not everyone will agree on what is “right” and “wrong,” especially when human life is involved. That is where the public comes in.

Foxx writes, “Many of these larger questions will require longer and more thorough dialogue with government, industry, academia and, most importantly, the public.”

Just like any law, self-driving vehicle regulations will continue to evolve. In a world where keeping both hands on the wheel may become obsolete, you still have the power to steer where driverless cars are headed.

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