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NHTSA urges caution with endorsement of fully automated vehicles

By now, most of our readers have probably heard of Google’s famous self-driving car and similar efforts to create such vehicles. These vehicles, to be sure, hold a lot of promise for the future of transportation, but also a good amount of uncertainty from an insurance and liability perspective. On Thursday, federal regulators with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced plans to look at the safety risks and benefits of self-driving vehicles over the next handful of years.

The NTHSA has urged states to bar operation of self-driving cars for purposes other than testing. States that allow the use of these vehicles for commercial purposes, the agency said, should require drivers to obtain additional training and special licenses. Those recommendations were part of the agency’s preliminary policy on self-driving vehicles.

Safety technology has been moving more and more in the direction of self-driving vehicles, with features like automatic park assistance and emergency braking, but autonomous vehicles have yet to earn widespread public confidence. At this point, most car manufacturers are working some form of automation into their designs.

The research set to be conducted by the NHTSA will look at the safety risks of vehicles with high levels of automation, including how the driver interacts with such cars and how to make the car’s electronic control systems more secure and reliable. Preventing unnecessary car accidents will be a top priority in the development of the technology.

No states, of course, have yet permitted self-driving vehicles for other than testing purposes, but if this does happen, the NHTSA hopes to see this move undertaken with due caution.

Source: Denver Post, “U.S. safety regulators recommend licenses for self-driving cars,” Reuters, May 31, 2013.