Editorial: Light self-driving regs will help autos

The Detroit News

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) this week issued guidelines for the technology in self-driving vehicles. It’s an unprecedented step signaling just how serious and imminent the future of advanced mobility and automated driving has become.

The guidelines will be critical to protecting drivers on the road today and tomorrow. Michigan is on the cusp of allowing self-driving vehicles on the open roadways, and a handful of other states are legislating around autonomous vehicle technology. These are certainly exciting prospects, but no automakers or technology developers can be too cautious as they roll out their new products for safety testing. Pedestrian safety must also be considered.

The federal government has made a point of noting the guidelines are designed to be adaptable to the rapidly changing demands of technology.

It’s a remarkably refreshing approach to regulating from Washington, D.C. President Barack Obama even published an op-ed on the guidelines in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, writing, “Regulation can go too far. Government sometimes gets it wrong when it comes to rapidly changing technologies. That’s why this new policy is flexible and designed to evolve with new advances.”

NHTSA’s guidelines include a 15-point checklist semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicles are expected to meet before the vehicles hit the road. They’re quite comprehensive, though they rightly focus the federal government’s involvement with vehicle safety and passenger privacy, leaving the technological deployment to the companies creating it. For example, the guidelines direct automakers to aggressively share data with regulators on what causes crashes. They also instruct automakers to share data about online hacking or other security breaches.

It’s also encouraging the guidelines direct automakers to ensure consumers have a clear understanding of what data these new vehicles are collecting. The computer systems running semi-autonomous and autonomous cars are constantly collecting and sharing data; it’s critical consumers retain the right to shield any personal information from being collected or stored.

NHTSA will still have the right to pull off the road vehicles that don’t meet these standards — the same right the agency currently has with traditional vehicles.

As states, including Michigan, begin regulating autonomous vehicles in real life situations, NHTSA has struck the right balance between federal guidelines and state laws. States will still be in charge of licensing drivers and insurance, as well as their own rules about what particular kinds of semi or fully autonomous vehicles are allowed on their roads. But the technology will be regulated by the federal government.

Detroit’s Big Three automakers have all recently announced their own investments in semi-autonomous or autonomous technology, and the future auto industry will continue to be the backbone to Michigan’s economy.

And Washington’s light regulatory touch means the auto industry can partner with regulators as technology changes.