Google urges Congress to help get self-driving cars on roads

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By Larry Banks

The head of Google’s self-driving car program will meet with Congress to urge giving national safety regulators the authority to speed the introduction of autonomous vehicles on US roads.

Chris Urmson, director of the self-driving car program at the search and technology giant, plans to tell the Senate Commerce Committee that new authority should be given to the US Transportation Department to help get self-driving cars on the roads, according to a report by Reuters.

“We propose that Congress move swiftly to provide the secretary of transportation with new authority to approve life­saving safety innovations. This new authority would permit the deployment of innovative safety technologies that meet or exceed the level of safety required by existing federal standards, while ensuring a prompt and transparent process”, says the prepared testimony.

Car makers and technology companies are busy developing vehicles that can drive themselves, but have repeatedly said that state and federal safety rules are impeding the testing and deployment of the vehicles. In December 2015, California proposed rules that would bar autonomous cars without human controls and a licensed driver.

Google said it was disappointed by California’s action. “If every state is left to go its own way without a unified approach, operating self-driving cars across state boundaries would be an unworkable situation and one that will significantly hinder… the eventual deployment of autonomous vehicles”, Urmson’s testimony says.

Urmson also highlights the fact that man safety rules wouldn’t be needed with fully autonomous vehicles, such as the requirement to have a rear view mirror.

In January this year, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it could waive some safety rules to allow more driverless cars on the roads as part of the push to speed up their development.

On Friday the NHTSA said there are significant legal hurdles to allow fully autonomous vehicles without steering wheels.

NHTSA aims to create guidelines for self-driving cars within the next six months, Transportation Secretary Anthony Fox said in January. The agency also said last month that the AI systems that actually pilot such vehicles could be considered the driver under federal law.

Google wants to offer fully autonomous vehicles for use on US roads “soon.”

SOURCE: Reuters.

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