No plans for national regulations for driverless cars

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Las Vegas — United States Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx on Thursday said there are no plans for national legislation to regulate self-driving vehicles, and that those decisions are still best made on the state-by-state level.

Foxx, speaking to media after a Thursday panel discussion at the CES technology trade show, said it’s “not completely out of the question” to eventually see blanket regulations at the federal level for autonomous cars. But he said the government should be more concerned with speeding up the time it takes the agency to evaluate technologies.

“There’s a lot the federal government can do in terms of laying out safety standards and producing guidance for model legislations at the state level,” he said. “It may happen at some point that there’s a desire for a national approach for these things, but I think we’re a little ways away from that point. Right now, we’ve got to develop a mechanism to evaluate the technology that comes to us and as rapidly as we can.”

In his panel discussion about the future of mobility, Foxx said it’s his department’s job to ensure that products in the marketplace are safe.

“Our goal as an agency is to step up the speed with which we can make those evaluations,” he said. “We don’t want to be in a situation where technology is presented to us and it takes four years for us to evaluate it.

“We have to move faster.”

Still, there are some in the automotive industry who would likely push for regulation of driverless car technology. In a Wednesday roundtable discussion about driverless cars, executives with Audi AG noted that it’s hard to test the latest technology because each state has different rules. For example, Audi executives said New York is the only that that requires a driver’s hand to be on the wheel at all times, so it could not test there.

Foxx in the panel discussion said the industry is at “a moment where the convergence of technology and transportation offers enormous opportunities for communities all across the country and world.”

He touted the department’s “Smart Cities Challenge,” which will award $40 million to the U.S. city that comes up with the most unique solution to smart mobility challenges. On Thursday, he announced that Mobileye, a tech company that creates cameras and map systems for autonomous vehicles, will outfit the winning city’s transit bus system with its latest camera technology that helps avoid accidents.

Mobileye’s co-founder and CTO, Amnon Shashua, said he expects to outfit about 300 buses and it will cost between $3 billion and $4 million.

Mobileye on Wednesday at CES said that smart maps are key to developing driverless cars. It wants to expand a project to crowd-source real-time smart maps with a number of automakers. It said it has agreements with General Motors Co. and Volkswagen AG.

Executives at Audi AG on Wednesday also discussed the importance of smart maps. It is part of a consortium with BMW and Daimler.