Transportation Secretary Says New AV Guidelines Are Coming

There are two primary schools of thought when it comes to safety and self-driving cars.

One perspective holds up the belief that driverless cars will significantly reduce automotive fatalities — by as much as 90%, according to one commonly cited statistic. To reach that point faster, we should accelerate the rate of introduction of AVs onto our roads now so that it will take less time for them to be perfected.

The opposing viewpoint is that it is unethical to rush self-driving cars onto public roads before they’re fully developed. The obvious reason is that it could put people’s lives in danger. But a secondary explanation is that if imperfect driverless cars are introduced too early, it could damage the reputation of driverless cars down the road, thus limiting their future potential.

Of course, no one thinks that an underdeveloped driverless car should be recklessly testing in actual public traffic, but the debate about release timelines continues to dominate the world of autonomous vehicles.

In a speech at the Detroit Auto Show on earlier this month, US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao straddled the line between enthusiasm for the development of autonomous vehicles and caution in their development. She also announced a new set of AV guidelines, which she referred to as AV 3.0, that will be released in the summer.

The guidelines, Chao said, won’t focus exclusively on driverless cars — they’ll address all forms of vehicular autonomy.

“AV 3.0 will include guidance for more than just automobiles,” Chao said. “It will address barriers to the safe integration of autonomous technology for motor carriers, transit, trucks, infrastructure and other modes, as well. The Department will update this guidance as often as needed. That’s part of our commitment to streamline the process and to keep pace with innovation.”

It was only in September, when the DOT released its last iteration of these guidelines, called “A Vision for Safety 2.0.” Those followed the inaugural guidelines that were released a year earlier. In her remarks, Chao said that this frequent updating was a reflection of the fast-moving development of technology in the AV space.

Chao also addressed the frequently discussed issue surrounding the impact self-driving cars could have on professional drivers and their job security. Some analysts believe that tens of thousands of people could lose their jobs. In Detroit, Chao lauded the Auto Show for partnering with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation to host the first-ever Future Automotive Career Exposition at the event.

Ultimately, Chao aligned the DOT with the belief that eliminating barriers to AV deployment is the greatest means of promoting automotive safety at large.

“At the US Department of Transportation, safety will always be our number one priority,” she said. “That’s why a key part of DOT’s mission is to cultivate and encourage innovation in safety by eliminating unnecessary obstacles to the development and integration of new technology.”

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