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US Announces Guidelines for Driverless Cars

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government
U.S. Department of Transportation

US Announces Guidelines for Driverless Cars

Bryan Lynn, VOA News Learning English
22 September 2016

Audio Version - 4.6MB - 4:58

The U.S. government has released new guidelines for the fast-developing technology of driverless cars.

The guidelines were announced Tuesday by the Department of Transportation. They were developed with companies working on the technology, as well as industry experts and safety groups.

The administration of President Barack Obama commented on the new guidelines. It said they will help bring about “the responsible introduction” of driverless cars in a “safe, clean, efficient” way.

Obama shared his thoughts on the technology this week in an editorial for The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

“In the seven-and-a-half years of my presidency, self-driving cars have gone from sci-fi fantasy to an emerging reality with the potential to transform the way we live,” he wrote.

But he added, “We have to get it right. Americans deserve to know they’ll be safe today even as we develop and deploy the technologies of tomorrow.”

15-point safety standards

Obama said that is the goal of the new Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. It includes a list of 15 safety standards for the design and development of autonomous vehicles.

The standards set policies for testing vehicles and recording information about crashes. They also require developers to provide safeguards for system failures and outline their plans to prevent vehicle hacking.

Officials said the policies are meant as suggestions to guide the industry, rather than rules backed by legal enforcement. But the guidelines give the government authority to carry out a recall on vehicle features that do not meet the safety standards.

“If a self-driving car isn't safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road,” Obama wrote in his editorial. “We won't hesitate to protect the American public's safety.”

Industry welcomes guidelines

The guidelines were welcomed as “an important step forward” by a group representing major companies involved in the technology. These include Uber, Google, Lyft, Ford and Volvo.

The service Uber is testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Currently, the cars still have a human driver in the vehicle in case anything goes wrong.

Uber recently also announced a $300 million deal with an automobile manufacturer, Volvo. The companies are to cooperate on self-driving technology and the production of vehicles.

Ford has announced plans to make a self-driving car available by 2021. The car will have no steering wheel or pedal controls. At first, it will be sold to car-sharing services like Uber and Lyft. Later, it will go on sale to everyone.

Driverless cars will change cities

The chief executive officer of Uber’s main competitor, Lyft, recently offered a prediction about car ownership. John Zimmer wrote in a blog post that, "private car ownership will all but end in major U.S. cities.”

Zimmer wrote, “Every year, more and more people are concluding it is simpler and more affordable to live without a car.” He added, “And when networked autonomous vehicles come onto the scene, below the cost of car ownership, most city-dwellers will stop using a personal car altogether.”

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for VOA Learning English, based on reports by VOA News and the Associated Press. Mario Ritter was the editor.

We want to hear from you. How do you think driverless cars should be regulated? Write to us in the Comments section, and visit our Facebook page.

Words in This Story

fantasy – n. something that imagined that is not real or true

standard – n. a certain level of acceptable quality

autonomous – adj. independent, existing separately from other things.

hacking – v. illegally gaining access to a computer

recall – n. – a request by a company for people to return a product because it has a defect or problem

pedal – n. a control on a piece of equipment that you push with your foot

affordable – adj. cheap, costing little

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