Mark Rosekind.

By Mike Davey

Detroit, Michigan -- June 14, 2016 -- The US-based National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a major announcement regarding the future of self-driving vehicles. In brief, the NHTSA will implement federal regulations, but will have no say when it comes to the regulations made by the individual states, according to comments made by Mark Rosekind, head of the NHTSA at the TU-Automotive Detroit conference.

“What is unusual is everybody expects regulations to come out and that’s what it is forever, and NHTSA’s job is react and enforce it,” said Rosekind. “That will not work with this area. I think we’re going to have something different in July.”

Rosekind said the NHTSA plans to release official documents in July that will serve as a framework for national regulations, but that the upcoming rules won’t stop the individual states from legislating additional standards on top of the federal regulations. This could present challenges to both tech companies and automakers.

Licensing, for example, may vary from state to state. While this wouldn’t change the technology needed for self-driving cars, it could make things tougher for ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. Both companies are seen as supporting robotic vehicles, in theory to reduce expenses. However, if certain states insist that a driver must be behind the wheel at all times, the companies would still have to employ those drivers.

More to the point, having to deal with 50 different regulatory situations might hold up the introduction of autonomous vehicles in the US. It’s possible automakers may choose to release the first true self-driving car in another country first, and then adapt as needed on a state-by-state basis.


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