One of the biggest questions facing the rise of the driverless car is “how safe is safe enough?” Government regulators and auto companies are working together to figure out the best way to create safety standards and regulations for driverless cars of different models and manufacturers.
Many believe the answer to the previously stated question, “how safe is safe enough?” will be, constantly flexible. This meas that the standards and regulations will be changing as the technology becomes more advanced. “Today everybody expects a regulation comes out and that’s what it is forever. That will not work,” Mark Rosekind, head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), said at a Telematics Update conference in Novi. Although the NHTSA will be releasing guidelines in the upcoming months that will serve as short-term rules of the road, Rosekind believes those will be changing quickly.
Rosekind has admitted that the technology will change faster than regulator’s ability to make new rules, and that is one of the main challenges facing regulators. The Detroit Free Press reports that most vehicles that are testing for full autonomy (Level 4) are limited to testing grounds only, such as Mcity in Ann Arbor or other private test areas. One of the challenges to limited these types of self-driving vehicles to testing grounds is that a short drive around the track may not translate to a safe operating system for thousands of miles.
Level 2, or semi-autonomous, features such as adaptive cruise control, lane departure alert and forward collision avoidance has proved to be effective and safe, but the path to full autonomy is long and winding. Tesla has been at the forefront of self-driving technology, and they recently introduced an “Autopilot” feature which allows the driver to relinquish control of the vehicle. The Detroit Free Press however reported an incident involving a Tesla Model X which crashed into a commercial building in Irvine, California. The driver claims that the car accelerated on its own from its parking space, but Tesla stated that the vehicle logs showed the Autopilot feature was not active at the time of the crash.
One of the questions James Fackler, Assistant Administrator in the Michigan Secretary of State’s office, and Jude Hurin, head of the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, are discussing is whether self-driving vehicles should change the standards for who can obtain a driver’s license. “Michigan is taking the approach of ‘Let’s start slow.’ If there is someone behind the wheel, let’s make sure they are not technically unable to operate it. Some people outside the regulatory community say ‘Well, you’re standing in the way of future technology.’ But I want to make sure that if something does happen to this car that the person who is there is ready to take over,” Fackler explained.
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