US pledges $4bn to speed driverless cars

Detroit, January 15

The US administration pledged on Thursday to help clear the way for autonomous vehicles with an investment of $4 billion to fund research and testing projects.

US Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx made the announcement in Detroit, flanked by executives from Google and auto manufacturers General Motors, Ford Motor Co, Volvo, Fiat Chrysler and Honda.

“Much needs to be done to create the transportation system of the 21st century,” Foxx said at the North American International Auto Show.

He said the Obama administration plans to ask for funding to speed up the introduction and use of autonomous vehicles, saying it would help reduce the congestion and improve road safety.

The initiative also aims to improve the US transportation system and vehicle-to-vehicle communications technology which helps cars avoid obstacles and accidents through better awareness of the surrounding environment.

“We are on course for a future where congestion will only get worse,” said Foxx, adding that in the future 75 per cent of the US population will be concentrated in 11 ‘mega regions’.

Foxx said that because most accidents are caused by human error, autonomous vehicles can eliminate many road fatalities.

“By my simple math, that means that autonomous cars could have saved 25,000 lives last year,” he said.

The agency is proposing that some funds be made available to local governments to develop the kind of infrastructure needed to increase the effectiveness of vehicle-to-vehicle communication.

Such an infrastructure can give drivers up-to-the-minute information on traffic conditions, or even automatically stop a vehicle short of crash by automatically applying brakes.

Foxx said Department of Transportation (DoT) will propose rule changes over next six months that will make it easier for car makers to install autonomous driving features in their vehicles.

DoT also will draft model legislation which could be used by various states and make it easier to introduce automated vehicles.

John Krafcik, who heads Google Cars, welcomed the effort, saying that to implement these changes ‘you need to have a clear path and guard rails and DoT is offering to provide that’.