Chao Says Revised Fed Guidelines on Self-Driving Cars Are Coming

U.S. transportation chief indicates self-regulatory route for autonomous vehicles likely to continue.

Elaine Chao, Mark Schlissel
Max Ortiz—AP

The Trump administration is working to rewrite regulations that present hurdles to autonomous vehicles, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said on Sunday.

In remarks prepared for delivery at the Detroit Auto Show, Chao said coming revised guidelines would consider more than self-driving cars but include "barriers to the safe integration of autonomous technology for motor carriers, transit, trucks, infrastructure and other modes.”

Chao's address came several days after a coalition of safety advocates called on lawmakers and federal transportation officials to hold car manufacturers accountable to safety standards for driverless cars.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last year published a voluntary policy on automated driving systems and has since indicated that it will continue on a self-regulatory route for self-driving cars when it updates its policy this year. 

That self-regulation will likely continue, Chao indicated in her remarks on Sunday.

"A key part of DOT’s mission is to cultivate and encourage innovation in safety by eliminating unnecessary obstacles to the development and integration of new technology. Our approach will be tech neutral and flexible—not top-down, or command and control," she said.

In addition, Chao stressed the administration's concern that rural needs are addressed along with urban. "We hear a lot about Smart Cities. And that’s great, but not everyone lives downtown," said Chao.

She noted automated technology could help rural mobility and safety, mentioning that rural America accounts for a disproportionate share of highway deaths.

GM last week asked NHTSA for an exemption to have a small count of autonomous vehicles for a ride-share program without steering wheels or human drivers.

The agency "will review this petition, and give it responsible and careful consideration," Chao said in her address.