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New federal recommendations address driverless car safety

Iowa farmers are discussing automated tractors. Driverless Ubers are being tested on the streets of Pittsburgh. But until this week, the federal government had little in the way of regulations addressing the new technology.

The new recommendations issued September 19 by the U.S. Department of Transportation are a long-awaited start for getting automakers, transportation companies and government entities on the same page.

As some states (not including Iowa) have enacted laws related to self-driving cars, many tech companies and automakers have been pushing for more guidance from the feds, worried about conflicting state laws. The new Federal Automated Vehicle Policy has four main parts, according to NPR:

  1. A 15-point safety program for automakers and developers, coving design, development and testing
  2. A model state policy, clarifying what role the federal government will have and what states will need to address
  3. Expanding the use of some current rules to allow for developing and testing certain "nontraditional vehicle designs"
  4. A call for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to identity new safety tools and resources

The new policy seems to set the stage for federal agencies to handle oversight of safety standards for the cars at the design stage - as they do with non-automated vehicles - and leave matters of licensing, registration, traffic laws and legal liabilities up to states.

Whether driverless cars will make roads safer by minimizing human error or introduce dangers of their own remains to be seen, but the new policy seems to be a step toward ensuring the new technology is rolled out as safely as possible.

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