The U.S. Government has pledged to offer around $3.9 billion over the next 10 years to help get self-driving cars into the hands of American consumers.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the funding in Detroit this week, also pledging that U.S. lawmakers will help to refine regulations to clear the way of roadblocks. The money will go towards the testing and refinement of self-driving car technology through pilot programs.
“I’ll put this in plain English for you: in 2016, we are going to do everything we can to advance safe, smart, sustainable transportation innovations,” said Foxx. “We are bullish on automated vehicles.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT) will work together to create best-practice guidelines for the auto industry to make sure that the principles of safe operation for self-driving cars are well understood. They are preparing for what NHTSA calls Level 4 automation, which means that the car can handle all critical driving situations without the need for human intervention.
Foxx says that the DOT is ready to make exemptions in federal motor vehicle safety standards if necessary to speed up the arrival of self-driving cars, a sign that the government is looking to learn from the automakers as well as regulate them. “Look, we’re entering a bold new world here,” Foxx said. “We have to have one foot grounded in what we know about safety and apply our thinking to manage this transition, but we also have to have a healthy dose of learning from industry, and learning what they know and taking into account the ways we have thought about safety have to change.”
“A good road has a clear path and guard rails, and I think that’s what we heard today, a plan from the secretary to guide autonomous vehicles down a clear road,” said Google’s head of self-driving car, John Krafcik.
Even with the announcement, the exact timeline for the arrival of self-driving cars is still unknown as the technology still isn’t ready to handle fully autonomous driving. Tesla and Volvo now offer semi-autonomous systems that will drive the car on the highway while Ford and GM are both working to bring systems like this to market. Documents released last week from a number of companies testing self-driving cars in California revealed thousands of instances where the driver behind the wheel had to take control of the car to avoid an issue.