August 4, 2014 at 5:07 pm

Feds grapple with how to regulate self-driving cars

Acme— Connected and driverless vehicles may be the future, but local and federal agencies are still working out how to regulate safety and privacy concerns in high-tech cars and trucks.

Speaking at a panel on the first day of the Center for Automotive Research’s annual Management Briefing Seminars held near Traverse City, Nat Beuse, associate administrator of vehicle safety research at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said the agency it trying to outline its vision for connected and automated vehicles.

That includes regulating everything from park-assist features to crash-warning systems.

“One of the fundamental things we have to address is how to test these systems to make sure they’re safe and reliable,” Beuse said. “There are some serious questions that need to be answered before we can say ‘Yeah, that’s a good idea.’”

He said NHTSA is working with manufacturers and will soon release a report outlining its latest thinking on performance metrics. After that, NHTSA will spell out how it will regulate driverless cars.

As it works towards those goals, automakers for years have been experimenting with a number of innovative features.

John Capp, director of electrical and control systems research for General Motors Co., said the Detroit automaker is working on everything from lane departure and forward-collision warning systems to driver-assist programs that help drivers brake and, in some cases, drive.

“The idea of automated tech is not new,” he said. “But there’s going to be a progression of capabilities that take place before the driver doesn’t have a role anymore. The last thing we want to do is bring tech to the market that has unintended consequences.”

Privacy remains a concern, Beuse said.

Connected cars essentially store data about your location, driving behavior, physical dimensions and dining, gas and traveling preferences. There are few regulations as to who owns that information. And there are many risks about what could happen if someone hacks into that information.

“What we need to figure out is what are we going to do when it happens,” he said. “I think it’s folly to think it’s not going to happen. (Hacking into systems) is a real issue.”

Despite the popularity and intrigue of autonomous cars, a new study says a majority of the public has yet to come around.

University of Michigan researchers said Monday that most Americans believe that humans are still better drivers than automated technology. The same goes for Australia and the United Kingdom, although the study says residents there are less concerned about safety, security and privacy issues.

After surveying more than 1,500 people, UM found roughly 57 percent of respondents have positive opinions of the technology, and more than 70 percent believe self-driving cars will result in fewer crashes. But a majority of respondents in all three countries are at least moderately concerned about safety questions.

“Motorists and the general public in all three countries surveyed, while expressing high levels of concern about riding in vehicles equipped with this technology, feel positive about self-driving vehicles, have optimistic expectations of the benefits and generally desire self-driving vehicle technology when it becomes available,” Brandon Schoettle, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement.
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