U.S. Secretary of Transportation unveils new driverless-car guidance at Mcity

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Tuesday, September 12, 2017 - 5:16pm

In a press conference Tuesday afternoon, United States Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao unveiled the release of the department’s new guidance for automated driving system safety, titled A Vision for Safety 2.0. As part of an all day event, the press conference also welcomed Lieutenant Governor of Michigan Brian Calley; U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D- Ann Arbor, Debbie Dingell; Mitch Bainwol, CEO and president of Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers; Mark Riccobono, president of the National Federation of the Blind; University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel; and Mcity Director Huei Peng.

The event was hosted at Mcity, a test site for driverless cars that opened on North Campus in July 2015. The site — which includes features necessary for standard transportation by car such as freeways, road signs and highway tunnels — has been used by companies such as Ford and was a pivotal resource in the debut of the first self-driving passenger shuttle in North America.

“At Michigan, working with our partners in government and industry, we are driving the future of mobility towards a society that is safer, more sustainable and economically powerful for our state and nation,” Schlissel said during the conference.

The idea of autonomous travel discussed by speakers highlighted current issues with automotive transportation and the goals that the Department of Transportation hopes to achieve with the release of their new federal guidance. Bainwol explained that more than 90 percent of crashes are related to human error and the use of driverless cars will primarily address these issues — as well as provide for a cleaner, more efficient and more productive form of transportation.

The factors necessary to achieve such an autonomous future, Bainwol explained, include technology and public policy.

“The idea of autonomous cars has been a dream for a long time, but now, following decades of investment, it’s becoming a reality,” he said. “Policy can either harness and slow down innovations or it can help accelerate the life-saving, life-changing benefits, and that’s why what Secretary Chao is announcing today is so significant.”

The speakers also emphasized the advantages such methods of transportation would provide those with disabilities, specifically the blind. Riccobono noted that while vision has always been a necessity for driving, a society in which automated vehicles are used by everyone would provide those with physical disabilities the opportunity to make use of these methods of transportation.

“Equal access to reliable, affordable, flexible and barrier-free transportation is one of the most significant obstacles preventing people with disabilities, who represent one out of every five Americans, from fully contributing their talents and achieving full integration in our communities,” he said. “The race to bring fully autonomous vehicles to America’s roads brings an unprecedented opportunity to ensure equal access for people with disabilities.”

When announcing the guidance, which includes aspects from previous policy but is updated with input from public comments and Congressional hearings, Chao explained how the information will help to ensure safety and effective practice by states and policymakers.

She stated that the vision “is not a static document,” and that the vehicles of tomorrow will continue to build upon policies established by the guidance. While today’s vehicles include many automated features, the future of transportation will include new computing powers, sensors and cameras.

“The future of this innovative, new technology is so full of promise,” she said. “It’s a future where vehicles increasingly help drivers avoid crashes. It’s a future where the time spent commuting is dramatically reduced, and where millions more, including the elderly and people with disabilities, gain access to the freedom of the open road. Especially important, it’s a future where highway fatalities and injuries are significantly reduced.”

A Vision for Safety 2.0, developed with the assistance of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, is laid out in new booklet. This replaces the previous Version 1.0, otherwise known as the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, and seeks to provide a productive path in which safe and effective automated vehicles can further be successful through four main objectives: the encouragement of new ideas, updating department processes by following private sector innovation and supporting partnership with the public and stakeholders in regard to this innovation and making use of the best practices and assistance for state legislators.

“As technology advances and the department gathers new and more information from stakeholders and consumers, we will continue to refine and update this guidance,” Chao said. “In fact, the department, and all of its modes, are already planning for Version 3.0 to be released in 2018.”

Chao also emphasized this is not an enforcement document and in conjunction with each state’s interest in legislating autonomous vehicles will continue to provide an approach for a world with increasing technological changes to make use of such resources for public efficiency and safety.

The new announcement mirrors legislation which was recently passed by the House of Representatives. In a statement released following the conference, Dingell expressed her support of the new measures.

“This updated policy guidance also compliments legislation passed unanimously in the House of Representatives, the SELF DRIVE Act, which establishes a framework for the regulation of self-driving vehicles for the first time,” Dingell said in the statement. “Automated vehicles have the potential to transform mobility in this country — improving our economy and saving lives on the road. This is a unique opportunity for members of both parties to come together to improve safety, support the auto industry’s comeback, and help create more cutting-edge jobs in our state. Today’s announcement brings us one step closer to making this new technology a reality.”