February 9, 2018 / 4:20 PM / 9 months ago

U.S. transportation agency calls March 1 'summit' on autonomous cars

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Auto manufacturers, technology companies, road safety advocates and policy makers will attend a March 1 conference over potential government actions that could speed the rollout of autonomous cars, the U.S. Transportation Department said on Friday.

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao speaks ahead of Press Days of the North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center in Detroit, Michigan, U.S., January 14, 2018. REUTERS/Rebecca Cook

Last month, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said the Trump administration plans to unveil revised self-driving car guidelines this summer as the government sets out to rewrite regulations that pose legal barriers to robot vehicles.

Next month’s “summit” is to help “identify priority federal and non-federal activities that can accelerate the safe rollout” of autonomous vehicles, the department said. It will also be open to the public.

The U.S. National Highway Traffic-Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants comments on what research to conduct before deciding whether to eliminate or rewrite regulations. It could take the agency years to finalize rule changes, and advocates are pushing Congress to act.

In October, the NHTSA said it is looking for ideas on how it can remove regulatory roadblocks to robot cars. NHTSA said it wants to find any “unnecessary regulatory barriers” to self-driving cars “particularly those that are not equipped with controls for a human driver.”

The March 1 meeting at the department’s headquarters in Washington will include “several stakeholder breakout sessions on various topics related to automation,” NHTSA said.

Legislation to speed introduction of self-driving cars unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives in September but stalled in the Senate over concerns from a small number of Democrats.

Automakers must meet nearly 75 auto safety standards, many of which were written with the assumption that a licensed driver will be in control of the vehicle.

General Motors Co, Alphabet Inc, Tesla Inc and others have lobbied for the landmark legislation, while auto safety groups urged more safeguards.

Last September, Chao announced the first set of revisions to the guidelines unveiled by the Obama administration.

In early January, GM filed a petition with NHTSA requesting an exemption to have a small number of autonomous vehicles operate in a ride-share program without steering wheels or human drivers that could begin in 2019. NHTSA is reviewing the petition and has not yet certified it as complete, an interim step before deciding on the merits of the proposal.

Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Grant McCool

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