The U.S. government will release new guidelines governing the emerging technology behind driverless cars.
Some of the biggest American companies, including Apple, Ford, Google and Uber, are racing to create the next generation of vehicles capable of driving autonomously. But with driverless cars already starting to share the road with human drivers, the regulations around the use of the technology have lagged.
The hope is the guidelines, which will be unveiled later Tuesday, will provide a consistent framework to replace the current patchwork of sometimes contradictory regulations that can vary by state.
"Possessing the potential to uproot personal mobility as we know it, to make it safer and even more ubiquitous than conventional automobiles and perhaps even more efficient, self-driving cars have become the archetype of our future transportation," wrote Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx.
"Still, important concerns emerge. Will they fully replace the human driver? What ethical judgments will they be called upon to make? What socioeconomic impacts flow from such a dramatic change? Will they disrupt the nature of privacy and security? Many of these larger questions will require longer and more thorough dialogue with government, industry, academia and, most importantly, the public."
President Barack Obama weighed in on the government’s role in regulating driverless cars in a recent essay.
"If a self-driving car isn't safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road," the president wrote in an editorial for the Pittsburgh Post Gazette outlining the policy. "We won't hesitate to protect the American public's safety."
Ridesharing service Uber is currently testing driverless cars in Pittsburgh though the cars still have a human driver on hand in case anything goes wrong.
"The quickest way to slam the brakes on innovation is for the public to lose confidence in the safety of new technologies," the president wrote, adding that government involvement in the nascent technology would help ensure safety.
The guidelines come in the form of a 15-point list in the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, which outlines how driverless car makers test their vehicles, record crash and other data, provide data protection for users as well as ensuring the cars can handle unforeseen situations.
Abiding by the guidelines is voluntary, but developers of the robot cars are expected to accept them as the lobbying group representing Uber, Ford, Google, Lyft and others welcomed the guidelines.
"This is an important step forward in establishing the basis of a national framework for the deployment of self-driving vehicles," said David Strickland, a spokesman for the group.
Next month, the White House is hosting a summit on driverless cars in Pittsburgh with the hope of hastening the deployment of the autonomous cars.
Several companies developing driverless cars are ramping up activity. Ford recently said it would have mass-market robot cars by 2021 and Uber is testing a fleet of self-driving cars.
The CEO of the ridesharing company Lyft, writing in a blog post Sunday, said "private car ownership will all but end in major U.S. cities."