Securing America's Future Energy

Department of Transportation Releases Autonomous Vehicle Policy Aligned with SAFE Recommendations

Leslie Hayward

WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today released a document laying the groundwork for federal policy regulating autonomous vehicles. Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) will carefully review the document, and applauds NHTSA’s efforts to create a policy platform that encourages innovation. Much of NHTSA’s approach aligns with the philosophy put forward in SAFE’s National Strategy for Energy Security, released in May of this year.

SAFE will also be working with policymakers and regulators to ensure the rules are cemented in federal legislation in the coming months. Autonomous vehicles are a critical technology with the potential to spur one of the greatest changes in society since the industrial revolution. The status quo of our transportation system comes with unacceptably high costs and autonomous vehicles are an opportunity to transform that system for the better.

“Through my decades of service in the U.S. Marine Corps, I have witnessed first-hand the staggering burden in both resources and lives that oil dependence places on our military,” said General James T. Conway, 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps and Co-Chair of SAFE’s Energy Security Leadership Council. “If deployed properly, driverless cars will significantly enhance quality of life for all Americans through improved safety and accessibility of transportation—and will also reduce our over-dependence on petroleum.”

The U.S. transportation system is currently 92 percent powered by petroleum fuels. Autonomous vehicles are anticipated to enable a rapid shift towards electric vehicles, diversifying the transportation sector away from a single, highly-volatile global commodity. The U.S. is the world’s largest oil consumer, accounting for one-fifth of global oil consumption—about 19 million barrels per day. Between 2011 and 2014, the United States’ reliance on oil led to an average economy-wide spend of almost $880 billion per year on petroleum products, equivalent to more than 5 percent of U.S. gross domestic product.

“Autonomous vehicles are a national issue requiring a clear national policy,” said Amitai Binnun, SAFE’s Director of Autonomous Vehicle Initiatives. “Without proactive steps from the federal government, a messy patchwork of state regulations will emerge which serves the interests of neither the public nor industry.”

“American innovators have already demonstrated an ability to lead,” said SAFE’s President and CEO, Robbie Diamond. “Their creativity and technological vision on driverless cars will enable us to revitalize our infrastructure and unleash our productivity. Our work here has just begun—we have much further to go in order to cement the right, ‘innovation-first’ regulatory structure.”

NHTSA’s policy draws a line between the federal government’s responsibilities and those of the states, does not require specific licenses or operators to be present in fully autonomous vehicles once the technology is ready, facilitates information sharing among manufacturers based on best practices currently used by the aviation industry and offers non-binding safety recommendations for manufacturers.

About Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE)

Securing America’s Future Energy (SAFE) is a nonpartisan organization that aims to reduce America’s dependence on oil in order to bolster national security and strengthen the economy. SAFE advocates for expanded domestic production of U.S. oil and gas resources, continued improvements in fuel efficiency, and in the long-term, breaking oil’s stranglehold on the transportation sector through alternatives like natural gas for heavy-duty trucks and plug-in electric vehicles. In 2006, SAFE joined with General P.X. Kelley (Ret.), 28th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, and Frederick W. Smith, Chairman, President, and CEO of FedEx Corporation, to form the Energy Security Leadership Council (ESLC), a group of business and former military leaders committed to reducing the United States’ dependence on oil. Today, the ESLC is co-chaired by Frederick W. Smith and General James T. Conway, 34th Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps.


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