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New U.S. autonomous vehicle plan lets industry regulate itself

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, seen in 2017, announced

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, seen in 2017, announced proposed guidelines for autonomous vehicle makers at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas, saying that the plan will ensure U.S. leadership in developing new technologies. Credit: Ann Arbor News via AP / Hunter Dyke

The Trump administration on Wednesday unveiled its most recent round of guidelines for autonomous vehicle makers that still rely on the industry to police itself despite calls for specific regulations.

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced the proposed guidelines in a speech at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas, saying in prepared remarks that “AV 4.0” will ensure U.S. leadership in developing new technologies.

But the guidelines will likely fall short of expectations of auto safety advocates and the National Transportation Safety Board. In November, the NTSB, which investigates crashes and makes safety recommendations, condemned a lack of state and federal regulation for testing autonomous vehicles.

The NTSB said Chao's department failed to lead in regulating the new technology and put autonomous vehicle advancement ahead of saving lives.

In her remarks, Chao said that AV 4.0, a joint effort between her department and the White House, unifies autonomous vehicle work across 38 federal departments and agencies. It also establishes a list of government principles and says that safety is  the No. 1 priority.

“It recognizes the value of private sector leadership in AV research, development and integration,” Chao said. 

“The goals are simple, clear and consistent,” she said. “Improve safety, security and quality of life for all Americans.”

Other areas of focus include security and cybersecurity, ensuring privacy and data security and enhancing mobility and accessibility.

But the guidelines offer few specifics on how the government will accomplish the goals or put the principles into force.

While the guidelines say that the U.S. government "will promote voluntary consensus standards,” there are few details on what the standards should say.

The government will enforce existing laws to ensure companies don't make deceptive claims about the capabilities or limitations of autonomous vehicle technology, according to the document.

The guidelines will be published in the Federal Register, followed by a public comment period.

AV 4.0 comes less than two months after the NTSB criticized another federal agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, for failing regulate autonomous vehicle testing on public roads.

Among the NTSB's recommendations were that NHTSA require car developers to submit safety reports.

Currently the reports are voluntary and only 16 of about 80 companies testing self-driving vehicles have filed them, according to the NTSB. The agency previously has said it doesn't want to stand in the way of innovation in autonomous vehicles because they have tremendous lifesaving potential.

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