Trump Admin’s Driverless Car Strategy Wants Businesses To Take The Wheel

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Eric Lieberman Managing Editor
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The Trump administration released instructive guidelines Tuesday for the nascent, but growing, driverless car industry.

Published as “Automated Driving Systems 2.0,” the official paper lays out suggestions for a number of pursuant entities, like local regulators, vehicle manufacturers, and companies creating the self-driving tech.

There are several points within the 36-page document where the authors seemed to purposefully reference their light-touch strategy for the emerging field of transportation.

“In this document, NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] offers a nonregulatory approach to automated vehicle technology safety,” one portion of the executive summary reads.

“This Guidance is entirely voluntary, with no compliance requirement or enforcement mechanism,” reads the “scope and purpose” chapter. “The sole purpose of this Guidance is to support the industry as it develops best practices in the design, development, testing and deployment of automated vehicle technologies.”

In fact, the whole first section is titled “Voluntary Guidance,” with a subsection called “Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment.”

The Department of Transportation, specifically the NHTSA, says it will continue to oversee the regulation of safety design and performance aspects of motor vehicles and related equipment. But it appears to want to let the businesses put their feet on the gas for the self-driving car race. (RELATED: Uber, Anheuser-Busch Use Self-Driving Truck To Deliver 45,000 Cans Of ‘America’)

The executive branch’s guidelines come roughly a week after the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously approved a bill that loosens the reins over companies’ abilities to test self-driving car technology.

Known as the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act, or SELF DRIVE Act, the legislation (if passed by other governing bodies) will expand the private industry’s capacity to delve into the rapidly growing enterprise. Businesses would be able to apply for exemptions from federal- or state-imposed regulations that mandate certain safety and design protocols. The bill also entitles the NHTSA with the power to adjust federal standards as the budding technology grows.

While some studies show that automation, specifically autonomous vehicles, will take away certain jobs like truck drivers, it could have a number of benefits, including a surge in the amount of jobs needed to create both the tangible cars and the technology behind them.

Critics also claim that there are significant security concerns, like the prospect of the computerized cars getting hacked. Democratic Sens. Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut have introduced legislation ostensibly addressing these reservations on more than one occasion.

“Such regulatory efforts could slow the adoption of intelligent vehicles and delay the many benefits they will bring,” Adam Thierer, senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center, wrote in his book “Permissionless Innovation.” He enumerates a number of potential, perhaps likely, advantages to be gained from the technology, including added convenience, reduced traffic congestion, lower rate of accident and subsequent costs, and huge decrease in “driver error” fatalities — all of which could yield a plethora of other boons.

“Law could have a a hard time keeping up with the rapid pace of innovation in this space. That’s probably not a bad thing in light of the profound benefits associated with intelligent vehicle technology,” Thierer wrote. “But today’s legitimate safety and security concerns about smart cars will be worked out over time through ongoing trial-and-error experimentation, and legal standards will evolve to address accidents or security lapses with these systems.”

Thierer says that is a far superior approach to implementing the “precautionary principle” in which excessive U.S. regulations in this instance could stifle any potential gains, while other countries push ahead.

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