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NHTSA Releases Self-Driving Vehicles Guidelines

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May 31, 2013—The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released new guidelines to U.S. states for self-driving vehicles, urging that they be used only for testing and requiring that a driver can take over in the event of a malfunction.

“NHTSA does not recommend that states authorize the operation of self-driving vehicles for purposes other than testing at this time,” the NHTSA said. “We believe there are a number of technological issues as well as human performance issues that must be addressed before self-driving vehicles can be made widely available. Self-driving vehicle technology is not yet at the stage of sophistication or demonstrated safety capability that it should be authorized for use by members of the public for general driving purposes.”

The NHTSA also said that states should require drivers of prototype self-driving cars to receive extra training and special licenses to show they can safely operate the vehicles on public roads.

"We're encouraged by the new automated vehicle technologies being developed and implemented today, but want to ensure that motor vehicle safety is considered in the development of these advances," said NHTSA Administrator David Strickland.

Although the technology is still in its early stages, the NHTSA said it is conducting research on self-driving vehicles so that the agency has the tools to establish standards for these vehicles, should they become commercially available.

Several states have already enacted legislation that permits operation of self-driving vehicles under certain conditions.

The first phase of this research is expected to be completed within the next four years.

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