January 14, 2016 / 7:16 PM / 3 years ago

RPT-U.S. regulators could waive some safety rules for self-driving cars

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By David Shepardson

Jan 14 (Reuters) - The U.S. Transportation Department will outline proposals on Thursday to waive some vehicle safety rules to allow more driverless cars to operate on U.S. roads, sources said, as part of a broader effort to speed up development of self-driving vehicles.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx is set to unveil the new policy guidance for self-driving vehicle testing in Detroit. He will also announce that U.S. President Barack Obama will call on Congress to approve nearly $4 billion over 10 years to accelerate vehicle automation.

Major automakers and technology companies led by Alphabet Inc’s Google are racing to develop and sell vehicles that can drive themselves, but they have complained that state and federal safety rules are impeding testing and ultimate deployment of such vehicles.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which Foxx oversees, will tell automakers it is willing to exempt up to 2,500 vehicles industry-wide from some auto safety standards for up to two years - a move that could allow Google to get its self-driving cars on U.S. roads.

The agency is also willing to consider requests by automakers for rule interpretations that would boost innovation. NHTSA said Thursday said it confirmed that a BMW remote self-parking feature meets federal safety standards.

Regulators will set as a condition that companies demonstrate that their autonomous cars can operate safely and plan to develop formal guidance “on the safe deployment and operation of autonomous vehicles” within six months.

Under current rules, Google test cars must have steering wheels and pedals. NHTSA is encouraging automakers to seek exemptions from safety rules if needed to get driverless cars on the road. NHTSA also plans to work with states to develop uniform state regulations on driverless cars.

In December, California proposed state regulations that would require all autonomous cars to have a steering wheel and throttle and brake pedals when operating on California’s public roads, citing safety concerns. A licensed driver would need to be in the driver’s seat.

Google criticized California for its proposal.

Separately, Foxx is expected to join executives from several major automakers Friday to announce a voluntary agreement aimed at improving industry-government cooperation on safety enforcement, enhancing cybersecurity and improving the use of accident data to identify defective vehicles more quickly. (Reporting By David Shepardson; Editing by Joseph White and Bill Rigby)

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