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Department of Transportation Releases Policy on Driverless Vehicles

by Tim Stelloh /
A driver briefly takes his hands off the steering wheel of Toyota Motor Corp.'s prototype car equipped with an automated highway driving support system while running on a highway in Detroit, Michigan, Sept. 5, 2014. The Japanese automaker demonstrated the car, which keeps drivers from straying out of lane on highways, to the media.
A driver briefly takes his hands off the steering wheel of Toyota Motor Corp.'s prototype car equipped with an automated highway driving support system while running on a highway in Detroit, Michigan, Sept. 5, 2014. The Japanese automaker demonstrated the car, which keeps drivers from straying out of lane on highways, to the media.Kyodo

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Amid a boom in automated vehicle technology, the Department of Transportation on Monday released a set of policies aimed at regulating self-driving cars.

The new rules apply to vehicles that can take full operational control in “at least some circumstances,” the department said in a fact sheet, and are meant to balance safety and innovation.

A driver briefly takes his hands off the steering wheel of Toyota Motor Corp.'s prototype car equipped with an automated highway driving support system while running on a highway in Detroit, Michigan, Sept. 5, 2014. The Japanese automaker demonstrated the car, which keeps drivers from straying out of lane on highways, to the media.
A driver briefly takes his hands off the steering wheel of Toyota Motor Corp.'s prototype car equipped with an automated highway driving support system while running on a highway in Detroit, Michigan, Sept. 5, 2014. The Japanese automaker demonstrated the car, which keeps drivers from straying out of lane on highways, to the media.Kyodo

Among the regulations is a 15-point safety check assessing a vehicle’s crashworthiness, its safeguards against hacking, and what happens if its automated system fails.

Related: Tesla Ramps Up War of Words Over Fatal Autopilot Crash

The rules also require pre-market government inspections on new technologies, unlike the current self-certification system. Car makers will also have to deal immediately with safety risks that constitute “imminent hazards,” the rules say.

Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx told NBC News that the new rules are part of "a march toward this eventual automation” — though such technology is already available through lane assist and self-parking, he said.

“People are starting to get a taste of it today,” he said. “But I would say within the next five years we’re going to be light years ahead of where we are today.”

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