White House Looks to Spend $3.9B to Jump-Start Autonomous Car Efforts

NEWS ANALYSIS: The Department of Transportation will head up a new effort to work with carmakers and state governments to speed the introduction and use of self-driving cars in the U.S.

self-driving car

The Obama administration announced Jan. 14 that it is proposing to spend nearly $4 billion over 10 years in an effort to fund a series of pilot projects that are intended to jump-start the autonomous car efforts in the United States. Standing with senior executives from major carmakers and leading-edge developers, Anthony Foxx, U.S. Secretary of Transportation, said that his department will be heading up the autonomous vehicle effort.

Speaking at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Foxx said the administration's proposal is for a public-private effort to drive innovation in the transportation sector. "The president's proposal allows us to test automated and connected vehicle systems in different corridors and different states, and to work with industry to ensure an effective interoperability framework," Foxx said.

DOT is interested in promoting autonomous vehicles for several reasons, the most obvious one being safety, according to Foxx. In addition, Foxx noted in his remarks that by reducing congestion through the use of what he calls "automated" cars, some of the indirect effects of automotive traffic, notably air pollution, would be reduced.

The administration's effort is part of an overall effort to get ahead of the transportation problems that Foxx sees coming in the future. By 2045, the U.S. population will grow by 70 million and three-quarters of all Americans will reside in 11 megaregions, which do not have the infrastructure to accommodate that growth, he pointed out.

"We have been talking about the tremendous potential benefits of technology in transportation for more than a year now," Foxx said, "and we recognized that we had some catching up to do." He noted that more than 80 percent of traffic accidents are due to human error, and that had autonomous vehicles been in use in 2015, that would have equated to a saving of 25,000 lives in that year alone.

Moving forward with autonomous vehicles really boils down to technology, and in this the administration is making an attempt to get ahead of the requirements of technology instead of playing catch-up. This means, among other things, working in advance to create a clear set of standards and best practices to give manufacturers and policy-makers a clear framework to build on.

Foxx pointed to a recent example of how this might work. "One example is BMW, which has developed a remote self-parking feature that did not comply with our standards. I use the past tense because I am pleased to announce today that we just recently informed BMW that their remote self-parking feature complies with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards."

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...