U.S. transport chief to unveil revised self-driving car guidelines

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DETROIT (Reuters) – The Trump administration plans to unveil revised self-driving car guidelines this summer as the government works to rewrite regulations that pose legal barriers to robot vehicles, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said on Sunday.

Chao said at a Detroit auto show forum the revised guidelines would address not only self-driving automobiles but also “barriers to the safe integration of autonomous technology for motor carriers, transit, trucks, infrastructure and other modes.”

General Motors Co, Alphabet Inc, Toyota Motor Corp and many other companies are aggressively pursuing self-driving car technologies and want Congress and regulators to remove barriers to the vehicles.

Bills in Congress to speed the introduction of self-driving cars do not include commercial trucks. In September, Chao unveiled the first set of revisions to the guidelines that were first unveiled by the Obama administration.

Chao said her goal is eliminate “unnecessary obstacles to the development and integration of new technology. Our approach will be tech neutral and flexible — not top-down, or command and control.” She added the government will “not be in the business of picking winners or losers, or favoring one form of technology over another.”

In October, the U.S. National Highway Traffic-Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it is looking for input on how it can remove regulatory roadblocks to self-driving cars.

NHTSA said in a report that it wants to find any unnecessary regulatory barriers” to self-driving cars “particularly those that are not equipped with controls for a human driver.”

The agency also wants comments on what research it needs to conduct before deciding whether to eliminate or rewrite regulations. But it could take the agency years to complete the research and finalize rule changes.

Automakers must meet nearly 75 auto safety standards, many written with the assumption that a licensed driver will be in control of the vehicle. The agency said in 2016 that current regulations pose “significant” regulatory hurdles to vehicles without human controls.

Earlier this month, the Transportation Department published notices requesting comments to identify barriers to innovation including one from NHTSA, two from the Federal Transit Administration to address autonomous bus technology and barriers and one from the Federal Highway Administration to address autonomous infrastructure technology. Chao said more are planned.

Last week, GM filed a petition with NHTSA requesting an exemption to have a small number of autonomous vehicles operate in a ride-share program without steering wheels or human drivers.

Chao said the “department will review this petition, and give it responsible and careful consideration.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn and Nick Zieminski