New car announcements weren't the only news made at the Detroit Auto Show. In a press conference at the show, the United States Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx revealed part of President Obama's plan to invest in 21st century transportation systems. Specifically, Foxx announced a nearly $4 billion investment over the next 10 years into developing safe autonomous vehicles.

Foxx also said the Department of Transportation is "removing potential roadblocks to the integration of innovative, transformational automotive technology that can significantly improve safety, mobility, and sustainability." In other words, regulations that could make autonomous technologies illegal have been or will be rolled back. Foxx was not specific as to which regulations are affected, but as part of the plan and in recognition of the advancements in autonomous technology over the past few years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released an updated policy statement on automated vehicles. The most recent policy went into effect in 2013.

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

Safety is the major reason behind the initiative. “NHTSA is using all of its available tools to accelerate the deployment of technologies that can eliminate 94 percent of fatal crashes involving human error,” said NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind.

The nearly $4 billion investment would come out of the President's proposed fiscal year 2017 budget. It would be used for programs to test connected vehicle systems in various designated areas of the country, and to work with industry leaders to develop rules for connected and autonomous vehicles that can work in all states.

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The DOT provided the following milestones that it is committed to reaching in 2016:

1) Within six months, NHTSA will work with the auto industry and others to "develop guidance on the safe deployment and operation of autonomous vehicles." This includes defining the necessary performance characteristics for fully autonomous vehicles and the testing and analysis methods needed to assess them.

2) Within six months, NHTSA will work with state partners, the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, and other stakeholders to develop a model state policy on automated vehicles that offers a path to consistent national policy.

3) The DOT will take rule interpretation requests from automakers to allow more technology innovation. For example, BMW recently submitted a request that its remote self-parking system meets federal safety standards and the DOT agreed that it is compliant with current regulations. This system is currently disabled on U.S. versions of the new 7 Series but it will likely be added in the future.

4) When interpretation authority is not sufficient, the DOT will take requests from automakers to use the agency’s exemption authority, which allows the deployment of up to 2,500 fully autonomous vehicles for up to two years. The agency will grant these exceptions if it will ease development of new safety features.

5) The DOT and NHTSA will "develop the new tools necessary for this new era of vehicle safety and mobility," and will consider new authorities when needed to deploy fully autonomous vehicles, including those without a human driver, when it can be shown that they are as safe or safer than today's vehicles.

In addition to safety, the goal of these measures is to reduce both congestion and pollution as we move into a new era of transportation.

There is certainly a long road ahead for autonomous vehicles, but, for now, the government is on board with the idea.


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