NHTSA asks states to wait on driverless cars

The federal government is asking states to wait on approving self-driving cars for general use until more research can be conducted:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration unveiled new recommendations to states for self-driving cars, urging them to be used only for testing and to require safeguards to ensure they can be taken over by a driver in the case of a malfunction.

NHTSA also said it was embarking on a four-year research effort on self-driving or autonomous vehicles as it considers requiring features like automatic braking, in which the car takes action to prevent crashes.

“We believe there are a number of technological issues as well as human performance issues that must be addressed before self-driving vehicles can be made widely available,” NHTSA said in its 14-page automated driving policy statement. “Self-driving vehicle technology is not yet at the stage of sophistication or demonstrated safety capability that it should be authorized for use by members of the public for general driving purposes. Should a state nevertheless decide to permit such non-testing operation of self-driving vehicles, at a minimum, the state should require that a properly licensed driver (i.e., one licensed to drive self-driving vehicles) be seated in the driver’s seat and be available at all times in order to operate the vehicle in situations in which the automated technology is not able to safely control the vehicle.”

NHTSA says as self-driving cars improve, they will reconsider. NHTSA says self-driving cars being tested in California, Florida and Nevada by Google and Audi of America should have the capability of detecting that their automated vehicle technologies have malfunctioned “and informing the driver in a way that enables the driver to regain proper control of the vehicle.” The Michigan Legislature is also considering allowing self-driving car testing…

Safety on the roads is an important concern but I’d be interested to see how much testing it might take for the government to approve self-driving cars. And, even if the safety appears to works out fairly quickly, will it take more time to reassure the public that such cars are safe?

It would also be interesting know how alert drivers are going to have to be while not driving. If the driver needs to be alerted to retake control, how relaxing is not driving going to be?

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