NHTSA Lays Out Detailed Guidelines on its Driverless Car Policies

Google Driverless Prius

The National High­way Traf­fic Safety Admin­is­tra­tion is deal­ing with the “too much too lit­tle” quandary over how dri­ver­less cars should be reg­u­lated. NHTSA just issued its most detailed state­ment on it so far – it wants to see dri­vers test­ing out these cars to get extra train­ing and spe­cial licenses to prove they can safely oper­ate these vehi­cles on pub­lic roads – and only test vehi­cles on roads for now. Along with that, the agency warned states against impos­ing too many spe­cific guide­lines on this rapidly chang­ing technology.

NHTSA expects to see lim­ited self-driving capa­bil­ity by 2020 and fully autonomous vehi­cles by 2025 in sig­nif­i­cant num­bers; right now, a few states, includ­ing Nevada, Cal­i­for­nia, and Florida, have passed laws that allow for test­ing of dri­ver­less cars on pub­lic streets. Reg­u­la­tors have been very enthu­si­as­tic about pro­mot­ing research in self-driving cars with its poten­tial for reduc­ing high­way crashes and deaths and for curb­ing emissions.

Deputy NHTSA Admin­is­tra­tor David Fried­man said the guide­lines are aimed at advis­ing states on how to ensure that autonomous vehi­cles can co-exist safely with other vehi­cles on roads. One issue NHTSA wants to see tested and dealt with is how much warn­ing dri­vers need of a prob­lem that requires them to retake con­trols of a car that has been dri­ving itself.

The NHTSA doc­u­ment also defined five lev­els of automa­tion in these cars to clear up any con­fu­sion on how agency sees the tech­nol­ogy – from “Level 0” cars where dri­vers have full con­trol to “Level 4” which are “full self dri­ving automa­tion”. Google cars have “Level 3” with its “lim­ited automa­tion” – cars use laser sen­sors and map­ping technology.

Gen­eral Motors is “encour­aged that NHTSA rec­og­nizes greater reg­u­la­tory con­sis­tency and indus­try col­lab­o­ra­tion can help put these tech­nolo­gies on the road quicker.”