NHTSA issues policy on driverless cars

In the last couple weeks, federal officials from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a new policy urging states to look into developing technology for driverless cars. Some of our Florida readers know about Google’s fully automated car, and the fact that many new models of cars feature automated technology.

The technology has, in fact, come so far, that some say the biggest obstacle to driverless cars is not technology, but legality. Who would be liable if a driverless car got in an accident? The person riding in the car? The car’s owner? The manufacturer? The answer is not yet clear. At present, only three state legislatures have provided an answer, and only one—Nevada—has given legal approval for driverless cars, and there only for testing purposes.

The NHTSA’s new policy on automated cars did provide a note of caution in that it recommended that states who choose to permit commercial use of driverless vehicles should require additional training and special licenses.

How is the public responding to the idea of cars without active drivers? More or less positively, it seems, according to a recent study by J.D. Power and Associates. But features like automatic park assistance and emergency braking are preferred to a fully autonomous mode.

The technology manufacturers have developed so far ranges from features like adaptive cruise control to driving modes that automate numerous functions required for operating a vehicle safely.

At this point, many more states have to struggle with the issue of liability in the event of accidents. How different states come down on the issue will likely determine where the technology first becomes visible on a wider scale.

Source: Reuters, “Safety regulators recommend licenses for self-driving cars,” May 30, 2013.