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Today, the secretary of the US’ Department of Transport, Anthony Foxx, announced at the 2016 Detroit auto show that the government plans to invest US$4 billion ($5.7 billion) into autonomous vehicle research, as well as introduce unified nationwide rules regarding autonomous vehicles.

Foxx’s announcement today follows on from President Obama’s final State of the Union address earlier this week, where he pledged to build a “21st century transportation system” for the USA.

As part of that plan, the draft 2017 budget includes US$4 billion ($5.7 billion) over 10 years to “fund pilot projects that help accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation”.

According to Foxx, self-driving vehicles will “move people and goods more efficiently”, cause “less congestion”, and eliminate the “rapid acceleration and sudden braking drivers frequently engage in”. Along with the adoption of electric motors, this “means fewer greenhouse gas emissions”.

The secretary also believes that vehicle automation should also be embraced “for the lives it will save by reducing crashes”.

Along with the research funding, the Department of Transport will work with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and state authorities over the next six months to come up with “model state policy on automated vehicles that offers a path to consistent national policy”.

At present only a small handful of states, such as California, Michigan and Nevada, have rules permitting and regulating the operation of autonomous vehicles on public roads, but regulations in each state can vary quite dramatically.

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Foxx also used his speech to encourage automakers to actively seek rule interpretations from his department. He noted the remote control parking feature in the new BMW 7 Series conforms with federal guidelines, but the car maker chose to omit the feature from US market models due to a difference in interpretation.

He also went one step further and called on car makers and other interested parties to ask for exemptions, which his department can authorise for up to 2500 vehicles for two years if it believes that doing so will help “ease [the] development of new safety features”.

In the end, the secretary hopes that today’s announcement will spur the development of “fully autonomous vehicles, including those designed without a human driver in mind, are deployable in large numbers when they are demonstrated to provide an equivalent or higher level of safety than is now available”.




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