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Trump administration loosens guidance on autonomous vehicles

The Trump administration appears to be crafting self-driving vehicle rules with fewer stipulations than was required under the Obama administration. ( Photo: Shutterstock )

As the Congress works on developing legislation aimed at regulating self-driving vehicles, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao is looking to guide that legislation with less of a regulatory hand, according to Bloomberg.

The Trump administration has not released a formal statement about self-driving vehicles, but it’s safe to say that it will differ from the Obama administration’s approach. Under Obama’s approach, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has the power to “to approve or reject a self-driving vehicle system” before it is released to the market.

Marc Scribner of the Competitive Enterprise Institute does not find the anticipated adjustments to be “a sea change.” As a senior fellow in the Washington-based group supportive of the free-market approach, he noted how the “light regulatory touch” will be consistent with earlier comments made by Chao.

Does the Tesla crash have to do with this?

With the changes announced on the same day that regulators from NHTSA discussed the alleged causes of the Tesla crash that occurred sometime in 2016, pundits have predicted that the bulk of the changes involved safety concerns. The hearing, as reported by Financial Times, emphasized the “operational limitations” in the self-driving features that Elon Musk took pride in.

Data found in the Tesla model that Joshua Brown owned showed the vehicle owner’s hands “not on the steering wheel.” It does not show an effort to step on the brakes either. This served as a contrast to Tesla’s claim that its autopilot system was so advanced that it’s “twice as safe as a human driver.”

Citing Bloomberg’s confidential sources, the revisions include specifications on “vehicle design and safely elements” when putting automated driving systems in place. Sources also noted a “safety assessment letter” in which the automobile manufacturers and similar companies “may submit to regulators” the approach that they will take regarding safety.

The consistency in the Trump administration’s plan is to provide companies guidance to refer to. And it all comes together on the Level 2 automated driving systems. Tesla’s AutoPilot is this type of system. Level 3 automated systems and beyond are also covered, according to Bloomberg’s source. The same source also noted this will get the privacy elements and data sharing features altered compared to the original policy.

To calm market concerns about automated vehicles, educating the public about autonomous vehicles will be included in the revisions, according to Elliot Katz of the McGuireWoods LLP.

“While these guidelines are important, they’re not as transformational as the Self Drive Act could be or the bill we have coming of the Senate could be,” Katz said. With the House version mandating reports to be submitted by the companies about safety, it has yet to be seen whether the revisions will affect the Senate version of the said bill, a draft of which is possible by Oct. 4.

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