January 16, 2018 1:15 PM, EST

Regulators to Seek More Input for Autonomous Vehicle Rule Revisions

Ford partnered with Domino’s in 2017 for autonomous pizza delivery trials. (Photo by Ford Motor Co.)

U.S. transportation regulators plan to take another step toward rewriting federal rules hampering the development and adoption of autonomous technologies — from cars and trucks to buses and trains.

Department agencies will issue additional requests for comment to gather input from companies and the public on what rules affecting transport should change or be eliminated, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in an interview Jan. 14. The move comes in addition to four requests for public comment released last week as highway, auto and transit regulators try to cast aside roadblocks to new advancements in transportation.

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“The government has so many barriers. It’s a bureaucracy,” Chao said on the sidelines of the Detroit auto show. “We’re looking at what are duplicate, what bottlenecks are holding up the processing of innovation.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week asked for comment on “unnecessary regulatory barriers” for self-driving vehicles and how their safety should be tested and certified. The Federal Transit Administration is also looking for feedback on two fronts related to automated buses, while the Federal Highway Administration will seek public input on how driverless transportation modes should be accommodated on U.S. highways.

Beyond Cars

But efforts to revise the existing regulations should go beyond just cars and buses, Chao said. “The reality is that automated driving systems are part of every single mode of transportation,” she said.

The initiative to change existing rules could take several years and extend beyond the current administration, in large part because the regulators first have to identify what specifically the obstacles are, she said.

“We don’t even know what some of these barriers are, which is why we have gone out to ask the public, Silicon Valley,” she said. “The tech world, auto manufacturers: ‘What are you trying to do to improve transportation technology that the government is holding you back on?’”

GM’s Petition

Auto safety regulators are already confronting an early test of how current rules don’t mesh with automated driving. General Motors Co. last week announced it had petitioned NHTSA for permission to field a driverless car designed without foot pedals or a steering wheel, which today are required by federal auto safety standards.

Chao said the GM petition reflects how quickly autonomous systems are advancing and said officials will review the petition “with great care” and “in a responsible way.’

“Even if we cannot address all of the issues,” she said of the rule rewriting efforts, “there will be a roadmap that will be available for future administrations.”