U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao announced new voluntary guidance for developers of self-driving cars, along with guidance for state legislatures in responding to the rapidly developing technology.
Chao made the announcement at Mcity, Ann Arbor's driverless car test track. She says the federal government needs to stay out of the way of developers of a technology that has the potential to save thousands of lives a year.
The guidance encourages, but does not require, self-driving car developers to submit safety assessments to the U.S. Department of Transportation and to make public those assessments.
Automated cars should be able to detect when there is a malfunction, according to the guidance, and have a fallback process for returning the car to the control of the human driver.
Or, if the vehicle is fully automated with no human driver inside, the fallback should minimize risk by doing things like automatically bringing the vehicle to a safe stop, preferably outside an active lane of traffic.
Because automated vehicles may one day involve occupants in new seating configurations, developers are also asked to evaluate ways to maintain safety in the event of a crash.
And states are encouraged to take a light approach to regulation.
Kirk Steudle, Michigan Department of Transportation director, says the guidance shows that Washington is listening to what states and automakers have been saying.
"To my mind, this is really the best approach for developing innovation in a vehicle and letting it proceed as quickly as available to go on the street without it becoming a huge federal bureaucracy," Steudle says.