NHTSA Sets Guidelines for Self-Driving Cars

David Strickland, Administrator, National Highway Traffic Administration

Detroit News - May 31, 2013

NHTSA Admin­is­tra­tor David Strick­land urges states to place lim­i­ta­tions to pro­tect the pub­lic, as self-driving vehi­cles are tested on U.S. roads and highways.

Find out more about the agency’s ground­work for national regulation.

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

“There is great promise in this tech­nol­ogy,” NHTSA Admin­is­tra­tor David Strick­land said Thurs­day in a tele­phone inter­view from South Korea. “These are test vehi­cles, and (states) should have poli­cies in place to make sure the dri­ving pub­lic is safe dri­ving along­side them.”

The auto safety agency is lay­ing the ground­work for nation­wide reg­u­la­tions if autonomous vehi­cles become com­mer­cially avail­able. A num­ber of states have sought input from the agency, which doesn’t want states set­ting their own safety requirements.

NHTSA said it was embark­ing on a four-year research effort on self-driving or autonomous vehi­cles as it con­sid­ers requir­ing fea­tures like auto­matic brak­ing 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.”“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.”

NHTSA wants test dri­vers to get spe­cial licenses. If a state was to allow use of self-driving vehi­cles by the pub­lic, the agency urged them to require a spe­cial license and to man­date that per­son sit in the driver’s seat, ready to take over.

“We only have one shot at this,” Strick­land said. He said if there’s a crash that can attrib­uted to bad plan­ning or bad research, it will set back “the efforts of every­body in the space, and we lose the oppor­tu­nity to gain the safety benefits.