Obama’s $4B Plan for Autonomous Cars is Just the Beginning



Though the White House made a splash when it announced plans to seek nearly $4 billion dollars for testing autonomous vehicles the policy changes it put into place at the same time are likely to have a more immediate impact and don’t require Congress to let loose of the nation’s purse strings.

Those policy changes, which may not require congressional action, could spur quicker adoption of safety technologies by re-examining existing rules in light of automated capabilities. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx, invited firms to submit their technologies for review citing, as an example, how a careful assessment of a braking requirement confirmed that BMW’s remote self-parking system met federal safety standards.

“We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology,” said Foxx, “with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and transform mobility for the American people.”

Foxx said his agency would develop within the next six months guidelines on the best practices for safe operation of fully autonomous vehicles. Among the elements that may be incorporated into such guidelines are provisions to deter cyber attacks. A new report on protecting vehicles from hackers is expected from the Government Accountability Office in February, said a spokesman for Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.). Lipinski, who helped relaunch the Congressional Unmanned Systems Caucus last year, was one of the lawmakers requesting the report.

In addition to devising new guidelines, said Foxx, DOT will develop model state policy for automated vehicles—a model that would be a prelude to a “consistent” national policy. Production of both the policy and the guidance will be led by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) which will work with state partners as well as the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators and other stakeholders.

The $3.9 billion budget request announced by Foxx will help support these efforts as well as pilot projects where connected vehicle systems can be tested in designated corridors around the country.

The testing money is in addition to a new $50 million Smart Cities Competition, a contest intended to challenge mayors to develop strategies for deploying self-driving cars, autonomous vehicles, and smart sensors to prototype the future of urban transportation. Municipalities will compete for the funding, $10 million of which is contributed by Vulcan Philanthropy to support the deployment of electric vehicles and other carbon reduction strategies.

“Today’s actions and those we will pursue in the coming months,” said Foxx, “will provide the foundation and the path forward for manufacturers, state officials, and consumers to use new technologies and achieve their full safety potential.”