DETROIT -- U.S. Transportation officials plan to announce new initiatives this week aimed at accelerating adoption of autonomous vehicle technologies and a significant deal intended to foster closer collaboration between automakers and the government on safety issues.
At the Detroit auto show on Thursday, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx plans to propose new steps to speed the introduction of autonomous cars.
It’s unclear whether the autonomous car steps will include new policies, partnerships with automakers, or plans to issue new rules about autonomous vehicles. But Foxx’s autonomous car actions could be aimed at removing barriers slowing the introduction of self-driving cars, which the government views as having the potential to significantly improve road and traffic safety.
Then on Friday, the DOT, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and 16 major automakers are expected to announce a new voluntary pact to guide government-industry work on cybersecurity, recalls, defect reporting and to foster a more proactive approach to safety.
The safety pact, reported by Reuters on Monday, aims to set a new framework for how industry and government can address potential safety problems, without proposing new regulations following a record year of recalls in 2014 and record auto industry fines for safety violations last year
“We’re looking at potentially history-making activities,” NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind told reporters following his speech at the Automotive News World Congress today.
Rosekind declined to discuss specifics about the Thursday and Friday announcements, but said both were examples of “concrete” steps that could have significant implications for the industry going forward.
According to a draft of the safety accord obtained by Automotive News, the pact consists of four main principles that put into writing many of the goals that what Rosekind has pushed hard for since taking helm at NHTSA in Dec. 2014.
The four principles are aimed at:
- Fostering “proactive safety.”
- Improving the use and Early Warning Reporting data about possible vehicle defects.
- “Maximizing" recall completion rates.
- Addressing auto cybersecurity issues.
The signatories on the draft were DOT, NHTSA, General Motors, Toyota, Ford, Fiat-Chrysler, American Honda, Nissan, BMW, Volkswagen Group of America, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Kia, Jaguar-Land Rover, Subaru, Mazda, Mitsubishi and Volvo.
By signing the pact, “automakers and NHTSA are committing to work together to develop a collaborative, data–driven, science–based process, consistent with the law, to advance these objectives and thereby we are emphasizing our commitment to further enhancing the safety of roadway users,” according to the draft.
“The era of big recall is not a sign of progress. Record civil penalties are not a metric of success,” Rosekind said in his speech today. “NHTSA is truly successful not when we catch safety violations and hand down penalties, but when we work together with industry to prevent that kind of crisis from ever occurring in the first place.”
The pact could be “gloriously successful” provided sufficient trust is established trust and it operates as advertised, said one company source with knowledge of the plans who asked not to be named because the talks are private.
Another source said the the deal is in part motivated by the difficulty for government rules and enforcement to keep up with the pace of technological change in the industry.
“It’s a recognition that everybody may need to look at a new model,” the source said.
A NHTSA spokesman confirmed that Foxx will be in Detroit for an event Thursday and plans to discuss DOT’s autonomous car work, and the Obama administration’s work to promote transportation infrastructure investment and innovation.
Foxx has said he sees promise in the safety benefits of autonomous cars and has expressed a desire to see autonomous technologies adopted quickly when proven valid.
Automakers hoping to introduce autonomous vehicles have to navigate a complicated patchwork of state regulations governing self-driving cars. The California Department of Motor Vehicles, for example, recently issued a draft regulation that would require a driver to be in self-driving cars to take over.
Rosekind has said that the agency is reviewing its current policy framework, telling Reuters last month that a national policy for self-driving cars should be “nimble” and “flexible” and expressing opposition to a variety of autonomous car rules that vary state by state.
The agency outlined its policy views for autonomous cars in 2013, saying, among other things, that drivers should be able to quickly take over self-driving cars in case of a malfunction and that any malfunction, crash or near miss should be reported to authorities.
It also launched a four-year study of autonomous technology.
Much has changed since then.
Automakers and new players such as Google and Tesla are pushing hard to bring self-driving technologies to American roads. Many new cars feature technologies like active lane-keeping assistance and adaptive cruise control that can provide limited self-driving functions.
Plans for more advanced self-driving systems are on the way, such as Audi’s Traffic Jam pilot it plans to launch in the A8 luxury sedan in 2017. It will have the capability to navigate through traffic at speed of up to 37 mph.