Acting administrator prefers to focus on human-caused fatalities

The acting administrator of the US' National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says it's too early in the game to begin working on regulations for autonomous vehicles.

“At this point the technology is so nascent I don’t think it is appropriate today to regulate this technology,” Heidi King, the agency's acting administrator told Automotive News.

“It’s not there yet, but each and every day we are open to identifying when the time is right.”

Although she has ruled out specific regulations for the time being, King is willing to use the agency's other enforcement powers, including incident investigation and recalls, to step in where needed.

In the last year or two NHTSA has taken a hands-off approach to the emerging autonomous vehicle scene, where established automotive players, as well as startups from Silicon Valley, including Google's Waymo, Apple, and Uber, have been developing and testing self-driving cars on public roads.

In the US, regulations for the such vehicles are done primarily on a state-by-state basis.

The issue of autonomous vehicle regulations has occasionally grabbed mainstream coverage, with one recent example being when a self-driving Uber development vehicle hit and killed a pedestrian in Arizona in March this year.

Despite recent media attention, King believes the nation, and her agency, should focus on fixing more common causes of road deaths, including drink driving, and not using a seat belt. NHTSA estimates there were 37,461 traffic-related deaths in the US in 2016.