Federal auto-safety regulators are weighing requiring approval of automated-driving technologies before they reach the road, potentially expanding government oversight of auto makers after the first fatal crash involving a vehicle driving itself ...and more »
Federal auto-safety regulators are weighing requiring approval of automated-driving technologies before they reach the
road, potentially expanding government oversight of auto makers after the first fatal crash involving a vehicle driving
Existing motor-vehicle safety rules don't address autonomous vehicles, meaning regulators have no authority to block
automated-car technologies before they are introduced. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is often
limited to addressing potential safety problems after mishaps occur.
"There is no express prohibition of autonomous vehicles in â€¦ federal motor vehicle safety standards," U.S.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said.
Mr. Foxx said Tuesday that U.S. regulators may soon demand a say before such technology reaches drivers.
"I've been encouraging our team to think aboutâ€¦the extent to which we should encourage pre-market-approval
steps. That would require industry and the department to be more in sync and more rigorous on the front end of
development and testing," he said at an industry conference in San Francisco. "This change would be one that could help
us assure not only ourselves but the industry and also consumers that the vehicles they are getting into are ones that
have been stress-tested."
Such a move would significantly expand the federal government's oversight of an industry at a time that Washington
lawmakers, safety advocates and the Transportation Department's inspector general have criticized regulators for relying
too much on auto makers to report potential problems. The consideration of an approval process also reflects regulators'
struggle to keep up with driverless-car technology as it starts to show up on U.S. roads.
Mr. Foxx's comments reflect a desire on the part of regulators to better police emerging technologies that reduce
drivers' role in maneuvering a vehicle. But he didn't indicate how regulators would go about preapproving any
technologies. Regulators could need to develop new rules or seek additional power from Congress to block automated-car
technologies they find troubling.
An approval process could slow the adoption of driverless-car technology, which researchers expect to save many lives
world-wide over the next decade, said Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, an
"The technology is moving quickly and we don't want to limit the innovation," Ms. Bergquist said. U.S. officials
should practice "regulatory humility," as the Federal Communications Commission did at the advent of the internet,
allowing the technology to flourish, she added.
Mr. Foxx also said his department is convening a federal advisory committee to examine issues surrounding driverless
cars, and would create model driverless-car policy for states to adopt to avoid a patchwork of state regulations.
Determining the safety of an autonomous car is easier said than done. Chris Urmson, the technical leader of Google
parent Alphabet Inc.'s self-driving car program, has said the obvious comparison is whether the automated system is
better than a human at driving. NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind estimated that a robot car should be at least twice as
good as a person to be released to the public.
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk, in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal, said it's impossible to know
exactly how safe a system is before it is deployed.
"You can't. You wouldn't even know," Mr. Musk said. "If we knew we had a system that on balance would save lives, what
kind of f------ coward wouldn't deploy that system. There is the coward's path, we are not taking that."
Mike Ramsey contributed to this article.
Write to Jack Nicas at firstname.lastname@example.org and Mike Spector at email@example.com
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