Obama proposes $4bn for driverless car development

President Obama has proposed yesterday significant new funding for the development of driverless cars within the US.

Announced by the US Department of Transportation (DoT), the funding will total $4bn and will be spent over a 10 year period.

Primarily, the money will be used to accelerate the development of driverless car technology through the funding of pilot projects and a new regulatory framework.

“We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people,” said US Transportation Secretary, Anthony Foxx.

“Today’s actions and those we will pursue in the coming months will provide the foundation and the path forward for manufacturers, state officials, and consumers to use new technologies and achieve their full safety potential.”

While little is known about which exact companies or projects will be the first to receive funding, the DoT has stated that pilot projects will be carried out within “designated corridors” across the country.

Given this, it is likely that some major roadways may be opened up for more rigorous testing of driverless vehicles.

New regulatory framework

Alongside direct technological development, the DoT also plans to accelerate the development of a common interstate regulatory framework for the operation of these vehicles.

This regulatory framework will update the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) 2013 preliminary policy statement on driverless vehicles.

“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,” said NHTSA administrator, Mark Rosekind.

The new framework will have to address many complex issues related not just to the technology itself, but also to driver liability and insurance claims.

In order to make sure these regulations are well received, the NHTSA has promised to work with industry stakeholders and manufacturers.

As well, there are plans for rule exceptions entailing up to 2,500 driverless vehicles in cases where new safety technologies require exceptional testing.

So far all information suggests the earmarked funding will be exclusively used for the development of driverless cars, as opposed to other automotive technologies such as battery electric or fuel cell vehicles.