U.S. weighs pre-market regulation of self-driving tech

Foxx also said the Department of Transportation would create model policy on self-driving technology for states, in order to avoid a patchwork of possibly conflicting local regulations.

U.S. regulators are studying whether to require federal approval of self-driving car technology before it can be sold to the public, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Tuesday.

“I’ve been encouraging our team to think about … the extent to which we should encourage pre-market-approval steps. That would require industry and the department to be more in sync and more rigorous on the front end of development and testing,” he said at an industry conference in San Francisco. 

Foxx’s comments, reported by the Wall Street Journal, follow the launch of an investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into a fatal crash involving Tesla’s self-driving car software, Autopilot.

[Read more: Federal probe of first self-driving software fatality]


Foxx also said the Department of Transportation would convene a federal advisory committee to examine safety and other issues for self-driving cars, and would create model policy for states, to avoid a patchwork of possibly conflicting local regulations.

Currently, federal automobile safety regulations don’t address the issue of self-driving technology, meaning officials have no authority to stop manufacturers from selling automated cars, or to require any standards for them, beyond those that are imposed on vehicles in general.

“There is no express prohibition of autonomous vehicles in … federal motor vehicle safety standards,” Foxx said.

Introducing a pre-market approval requirement would “help us assure not only ourselves but the industry and also consumers that the vehicles they are getting into are ones that have been stress-tested,” he added.

Foxx gave no details about how regulators could begin pre-approving self-driving technologies. Regulators might try to issue new rules under existing authorities or seek additional power through legislation.


Industry called on Foxx to demonstrate “regulatory humility,” in the words of Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers. She compared the DOT’s exploration of new rules unfavorably with the attitude of the Federal Communications Commission at the advent of the internet — where their hands-off policy allowed the technology to flourish.

“The technology is moving quickly and we don’t want to limit the innovation,” Bergquist said, according to the WSJ.

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