Barack Obama Considers Pre-Approving Self-Driving Car

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The Obama administration said Monday it was considering seeking the power to review and approve technology for self-driving cars before they hit the road and said U.S. states should not set separate rules.

The U.S. Transportation Department, in its most comprehensive statement yet on autonomous vehicles, also issued voluntary guidelines and urged automakers to certify that their highly automated vehicles were ready for public roads.

“If a self-driving car isn’t safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road. We won’t hesitate to protect the American public’s safety,” President Barack Obama wrote in a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed published Monday. “We have to get it right.”

Automakers and technology companies are racing to develop vehicles that can drive themselves at least part of the time. They have complained that state and federal safety rules impede the process.

Obama wrote the administration is asking automakers “to sign a 15-point safety checklist showing not just the government, but every interested American, how they’re doing it.”

The guidelines include testing, backup systems in the case of a self-driving computer failure, and recording and sharing data. Companies would also have to demonstrate how vehicles would comply with all traffic laws and fare in traffic crashes and how they would perform after a crash.

The government currently allows automakers to self-certify that vehicles comply with safety standards.

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said on a conference call with reporters that a new premarket approval system overseen by the government would “would require a lot more upfront discussion, dialogue and staffing on our part.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been investigating Tesla Motors’s Autopilot system since June because of a May 7 fatal crash in Florida in which the system was in use. The Autopilot system, which allows drivers to keep their hands off the wheels for extended periods, did not require any pre approval by the agency for use by owners.

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