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US to Unveil Streamlined Autonomous Vehicle Guidelines

FILE - A Google self-driving car is on display at Google's I/O conference in Mountain View, California, May 18, 2016.
FILE - A Google self-driving car is on display at Google's I/O conference in Mountain View, California, May 18, 2016.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao will unveil on Tuesday streamlined safety guidelines for automakers that want to deploy self-driving vehicles, a person briefed on the matter said Monday, as members of Congress push their own proposals to remove regulatory barriers to the technology.

The new Transportation Department policy is expected to offer the lighter regulatory touch that automakers have pushed for. For example, the Transportation Department is expected to state that automakers do not have to seek approval from regulators before putting self-driving vehicles on the road.

Separately, the National Transportation Safety Board on Tuesday is expected to release findings that Tesla Inc.'s semi-autonomous Autopilot mode was a contributing factor in the May 2016 death of a motorist. That case has highlighted concerns about the design of systems that automate some, but not all, driving tasks.

The new document is titled "A Vision for Safety" and will be less than half the length of the Obama administration guidelines released in September 2016 and will be less "burdensome," the person briefed on the announcement said.

Chao is expected to make the announcement in Ann Arbor at a self-driving testing facility.

The Transportation Department is releasing its voluntary safety standards at the same time a bipartisan coalition in Congress is moving forward on legislation also designed to speed commercialization of self-driving cars without human controls and bar states from blocking their deployment.

On Wednesday, the U.S. House of Representatives voted unanimously on a measure to clear legal obstacles that could discourage automakers and technology companies from putting self-driving cars into broader use.

The House measure would allow automakers to field up to 25,000 vehicles without meeting existing auto safety standards in the first year. Over three years, the cap would rise to 100,000 vehicles annually. Automakers would be required to provide regulators with safety assessments of their systems, but would not have to get federal approval to put autonomous cars on the road.

A group of senators introduced a similar draft bill on Friday.

In September 2016, the Obama administration proposed that automakers voluntarily submit details of self-driving vehicle systems in a 15-point "safety assessment"and urged states to defer to the federal government on most vehicle regulations.

An auto trade group representing General Motors Co., Volkswagen AG, Toyota Motor Corp. and others, objected to the Obama administration proposal.

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