President Barack Obama wants to get robot cars – autonomous vehicles that drive themselves – on the road more quickly. And he’s willing to spend a fortune in taxpayer money to do it.
Obama’s newest proposal would provide nearly $4 billion to automakers and researchers for programs to test driverless vehicles.
U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx announced the plan Thursday, surrounded by representatives from General Motors and Ford as well as Google and Tesla. Foxx said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will spend the next six months developing guidance for automakers on what’s expected of self-driving prototype cars and what sort of tests should be used to make sure they are safe.
The agency also will develop a model policy for states to follow if they decide to allow autonomous cars on public roads. That policy could eventually lead to consistent national regulations for autonomous cars. Right now, individual states like California, Florida and Nevada have their own regulations.
Foxx didn’t predict when autonomous cars will be on public roads in big numbers, but he encouraged automakers to come to the government with ideas about how to speed their development.
He even encouraged automakers to ask for exemptions of its rules as long as they don’t impact safety.
“In 2016, we are going to do everything we can to promote safe, smart and sustainable vehicles. We are bullish on automated vehicles,” Foxx said during an appearance at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Safety advocates wondered if the agency is getting too cozy with the auto industry when it comes to technology regulations.
“While it is important for DOT to be knowledgeable about new technologies, primarily ones as dramatic as self-driving vehicles, DOT should independently develop data and information, not rely mostly on the regulated industry to call the shots,” said former NHTSA Administrator Joan Claybrook.
The Associated Press contributed to this article