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Government Says Self-Driving Vehicles Will Save Money, Time, Lives

A self-driving Ford Fusion Hybrid Uber is displayed at the companies' Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, Nov. 19, 2016.
Gene J. Puskar AP
A self-driving Ford Fusion Hybrid Uber is displayed at the companies' Advanced Technologies Center in Pittsburgh, Nov. 19, 2016.

Get ready, America.

The White House wants you to know that the era of self-driving cars is closer than you might expect. And the federal government is preparing to roll out the rules of the road that officials say are needed to make sure automated vehicles are safe, accessible and efficient. And if done properly, they say the new vehicles will save time, money and lives.

They also say they want to avoid a "patchwork" of regulations that differ from state to state.

"Self-driving cars have remarkable potential to make a significant dent in the $160 billion worth of time and gas that Americans lose stuck in traffic every year, and the hundreds of hours each American spends each year driving," said Jeff Zients, the director of the National Economic Council, in a briefing for reporters.

"So we're envisioning a future when you can take your hands off the wheel and the wheel out of the car and where your commute becomes productive or restful rather than frustrating or exhausting," he said.

On Tuesday, the Department of Transportation will issue its Federal Automated Vehicle Policy. It has four main components:

  • Vehicle Performance Guidance for manufacturers, developers and others, outlining a recommended 15-point program for safe design, development, testing, and deployment of self-driving vehicles prior to commercial sale.
  • Model for state policy spelling out what responsibilities states will still have such as licensing, registration, traffic laws, insurance and liability, while carving out the federal role for autonomous vehicles.
  • The policy will use current regulatory rules to aid the development of safe vehicles by allowing flexibility in design and allowing limited exemptions for testing "nontraditional vehicle designs." The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will also issue a bulletin clarifying its vehicle recall authority for cases when it identifies product defects.
  • NHTSA will identify 12 potential "new tools, authorities, and resources" for ensuring safety. Some may be created under current law and some may require congressional action.

"Today's statutes did not contemplate automated and autonomous vehicles," said Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in the briefing.
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