by Keith Laing, The Hill Newspaper
President Obama is calling for lawmakers to spend $4 billion on the development of self-driving cars.
The Obama administration said Thursday the money would be used “to accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation through real-world pilot projects.”
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a speech at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit that getting automated cars on U.S. roads more quickly would pay dividends in safety improvements.
“We know that 80 percent of car accidents are due to human error. So we ask ourselves, what happens if human error was eliminated?” Foxx said.
“If the technology meets its promise, my back of the envelope math tells me that more than 25,000 lives would have been saved in 2015 alone,” he continued. “That is powerful possibility, and that is not only worth pursuing, it is worth working aggressively to determine whether or not it is true.”
Foxx framed the budget proposal as an extension of President Obama’s pledge to invest in a “21st century transportation system” during his final State of the Union address on Tuesday.
The money for automated vehicles in Obama’s proposed budget for the 2017 fiscal year would be distributed by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for pilot programs that are being used to test the viability of self-driving cars.
NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said the highway safety administration is fully on-board with testing the potential of automated cars.
“NHTSA is using all of its available tools to accelerate the deployment of technologies that can eliminate 94 percent of fatal crashes involving human error,” Rosekind said in a statement. “We will work with state partners toward creating a consistent national policy on these innovations, provide options now and into the future for manufacturers seeking to deploy autonomous vehicles, and keep our safety mission paramount at every stage.”
Auto companies praised the Obama administration for displaying a commitment to allowing carmakers to develop self-driving vehicles, but they cautioned that the federal government will not be able to foster a market for the automated cars alone.
“Strides in mobility will not be achieved by any one person, company or government body,” Ford Motor Company Vice President of Government Relations Curt Magleby said in a statement provided to The Hill.
“Without the public and private sector working together to establish the framework that will govern the future of mobility, there will be a patchwork of regulations that create confusion and stand in the way of innovation and the benefits it will deliver,” he continued. “Flexibility and a new way of thinking will be essential to accelerate innovation and we look forward to working together with the Department of Transportation to help advance automated vehicle technology.”
Foxx said in his speech on Thursday that the president’s proposal will not result in a government takeover of automated car research.
“The president’s proposal allows us to test automated and connected vehicle systems in different corridors and different states and to work with industry to ensure an effective interoperability framework,” he said. “The president’s proposal, with its combination of public and private effort, is the right way to drive innovation in the transportation sector.”
Foxx added that the Obama administration will continue to look for ways to push for the increased use of accident-reducing technologies in automobiles that can be operated without providing distractions to drivers.
“Automated vehicles open up possibilities for saving lives, saving time and saving fuel,” he said.
“Automated vehicles promise to move people and goods more efficiently than we are moving them today,” Foxx continued. “And, when automation is combined with other technologies like electric motors and innovations coming out of the sharing economy, we will be able to reduce congestion and pollution even further.”