NHTSA Announces New Safety Initiatives, Including a Push for Driverless Cars

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At the January 12, 2016 World Congress meeting in Detroit, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Administrator, Mark Rosekind, indicated that “history making” announcements would be forthcoming regarding future steps the administration and the auto industry plan to take to increase vehicle safety.

Those steps include 1) eliminating barriers to the development of autonomous vehicles, 2) creating an industry-government consortium to accelerate the production and implementation of safety breakthroughs, and 3) cooperation between the NHTSA and at least 10 automakers to get emergency auto-braking systems into a wide range of vehicles.

DOT and NHTSA Pushing to Develop Autonomous Vehicles

According to the Detroit News, Rosekind visited the Detroit auto show in January, where he gave the press a glimpse into some of the changes that the NHTSA is hoping to encourage in the auto industry. The first step was an announcement by Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Foxx on January 14, 2016, in which he indicated that the government planned to invest nearly $4 billion to “accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation through real-world pilot projects.”

The DOT also plans to remove roadblocks to the integration of new technologies meant to improve the safety and mobility of Americans. The money is to be spent over a 10-year period on programs that will test new vehicle systems in designated corridors around the country.

Among the milestones the DOT hopes to reach:

• Develop guidance on the safe deployment and operation of autonomous vehicles within six months.
• Create a model state policy on automated vehicles that opens the door to consistent national policy.
• Develop new tools “necessary for this new era of vehicle safety and mobility,” as well as new authorities to ensure that “fully autonomous vehicles, including those designed without a human driver in mind, are deployable in large numbers” when they are deemed to be as safe as current vehicles.

The overall goal is to make transportation “safer, easier, and more reliable” in cities across the nation.

Consumer Watchdog Urges Caution in Speedy Implementation of Driverless Cars

The NHTSA is also planning to work with the auto industry toward the goal of reaching zero fatalities in the years ahead, according to NBC News. They believe that autonomous vehicles would potentially reduce the risk of crashes, as they would eliminate human error.

Consumer Watchdog, however, warns that getting too aggressive with one part of the plan—allowing auto manufacturers to get around the usual laws and regulations for approving new technologies—could prove to be an unsafe idea. Though Rosekind wants to encourage automakers to get safety breakthroughs into production without the usual delays of the standard rule-making process, Consumer Watchdog warns that so-called “driverless vehicles” are not infallible, and that they “pose unprecedented safety, privacy and ethical questions that have yet to be addressed, much less answered.” They added that they were urging the agency to “stay the course and stick to the job of carefully and thoroughly regulating the industry.”

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