Any doubt about the reality or imminence of driverless cars has all but vanished with the issuance of U.S. government guidelines signaling Washington's intent to regulate the transformative technology's rollout during the next several years.
Predictions abound as to when driverless cars will be commercially available, how quickly they will be purchased -- whether by consumers or companies like Uber -- what they will cost and how they will function in the personal mobility grid. What's now all but certain is that assertive federal involvement -- replacing more conservative rules from 2013 -- will hasten all forecasts.
The U.S. Department of Transportation issued a 15-point "safety and assessment tool" that lets the government evaluate the design and performance of driverless systems. Had such a policy been in place sooner, it might have averted the accident in May between a Tesla Motors' (TSLA) Model S sedan and a tractor-trailer in Florida, resulting in the driver's death. Tesla modified its system following the accident.
Automakers, some of whom have been slow to roll out advancements without legal guidance, have 60 days to comment on the new government policy prior to its adoption.
"We left some areas intentionally vague because we wanted to outline the areas that need to be addressed and leave the rest to innovators," said Bryan Thomas, a spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
A General Motors (GM) spokeswoman told the Financial Times the automaker welcomed the effort and was still reviewing the guidance.