Feds pledge to keep their hands off the wheel regarding self-driving

Trump administration offers principles at CES — but no regulations

LAS VEGAS — The Trump administration on Wednesday signaled strong support for self-driving vehicles as it released new guidance from federal agencies at the annual CES tech conference.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao unveiled the administration's latest principles for autonomous vehicles — dubbed AV 4.0 — which she says unifies autonomous efforts across 38 U.S. departments and agencies. The proposal was first reported earlier Wednesday by Reuters.

"The takeaway from AV 4.0 is that the federal government is all in — for safer, better and more inclusive transportation, aided by automated driving systems," Chao said.

The administration did not endorse new regulatory rules to ensure that automated vehicles are safe. Chao told Reuters in a recent interview that in contrast the Obama administration's approach was "very prescriptive ... and in many ways it hampered innovation."

White House technology adviser Michael Kratsios said the principles will "help foster an environment for innovators to advance safe AV technologies."

The 51-page 4.0 policy document released Wednesday says the U.S. government will adopt and promote "flexible, technology-neutral policies that will allow the public, not the federal government or foreign governments, to choose the most economically efficient and effective transportation and mobility solutions."

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigated the March 2018 death of a pedestrian in a crash with an Uber Technologies test vehicle, the first attributed to a self-driving car. The NTSB faulted the distracted back-up driver who failed to intervene when the vehicle did not properly identify the pedestrian, along with Uber's safety culture.

The NTSB said in November U.S. regulators should make those assessments mandatory and ensure automated vehicles have appropriate safeguards. Chao said she is still reviewing the NTSB recommendations.

Advocates for Highway Safety said the administration's "voluntary guidelines are completely unenforceable, will not result in adequate performance standards and fall well-short of the safeguards that are necessary to protect the public."

Chao said Wednesday "automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives annually."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is reviewing how it can remove regulatory barriers to self-driving cars and considering whether to let General Motors Co deploy some vehicles without steering wheels. Automakers must meet nearly 75 auto safety standards, many of which were written with the assumption that a licensed driver will be in control of the vehicle.

"I want the federal government to support innovation but not at the risk of safety," Chao told Reuters.

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