US regulator keen on driverless cars, but urges caution around safety

A federal highway safety representative is generally excited about the technology

Google showed off its prototype self-driving car on Tuesday in a video and blog post. It wants to build about 100 vehicles and start a pilot program in California

Google showed off its prototype self-driving car on Tuesday in a video and blog post. It wants to build about 100 vehicles and start a pilot program in California

One federal regulator sees a potentially bright future in driverless cars like those made by Google -- if their technology actually succeeds in making roads safer.

Google, Toyota and Nissan, and tech companies such as Nvidia, are developing driverless cars and advanced software that can take control of a vehicle at certain times when humans are behind the wheel. Companies involved in the technology tend to focus on the safety benefits of autonomous vehicles, which they say could reduce human error.

Safety goals could be accomplished, but companies need to be careful they don't introduce more distractions in the process, said David Friedman, acting administrator at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

"It's an exciting future, but also a future in which we need to move carefully and cautiously," he said, speaking Monday at Bloomberg's Next Big Thing summit in Sausalito, California.

"If anyone messes up the technology the first time, it can set the technology back for decades to come," Friedman said.

Friedman's comments help to illuminate how regulators might view the nascent industry of driverless cars at a time when there are still questions around the safety of the cars and how current laws may or may not relate to them.

The NHTSA was established by the U.S. Congress in 1970, focused on standards around motor vehicle and highway safety.

The agency is in communication with the big automakers and technology players to understand where the technology is going and develop guidelines around safety, Friedman said. The agency is also hiring electrical engineers inside and outside of the auto industry who understand new software development.

He urged technology companies to work with the agency to make sure they're in compliance with current safety standards.

Friedman commended Google's careful testing of its own cars. Recently the Internet company unveiled its prototype self-driving car, which it will start road testing this summer.

But he also urged companies to put safety ahead of making money on fancy new futuristic vehicles and gave a few recommendations to technology companies. Chief among them: New apps in cars, like Internet-connected software, don't create new distractions for drivers if they're still in control of the vehicle.

Driverless cars could be seen as the next leap, albeit a dramatic one, from what's already advanced tech in cars. Many new cars sold since 2011 have electronic stability controls to provide automatic braking in certain cases, which is itself a form of automation.

Tech companies like to say their driverless cars will remove the element of human error from driving. But technology won't remove human error, it will just shift it from the driver to the car's designers or engineers, Friedman said.

While there could be safety problems with driverless cars, Friedman said, "we're going to work as hard as we can" to minimize that possibility.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags peripheralspopular scienceInternet-based applications and servicesnissannvidiamobileinternetsearch enginesanalyticsmobile applicationsconsumer electronicsToyotaGoogle

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Zach Miners

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Matthew Stivala

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

The HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer is a great device that fits perfectly into my fast paced and mobile lifestyle. My first impression of the printer itself was how incredibly compact and sleek the device was.

Armand Abogado

HP OfficeJet 250 Mobile Printer

Wireless printing from my iPhone was also a handy feature, the whole experience was quick and seamless with no setup requirements - accessed through the default iOS printing menu options.

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?