Dezeen Magazine

US reveals $4 billion plan to roll out self-driving cars within a decade

The US Department of Transportation has unveiled a plan to eradicate accidents on American roads by increasing the number of self-driving vehicles.

The US government has pledged $4 billion (£2.8 billion) towards improving autonomous vehicles and providing the infrastructure to support them.

Department of Transportation head Antony Foxx championed the safety benefits that would be provided by a network designed to limit human involvement in the process of driving a vehicle.

He also said that self-driving technology will offer a solution to congestion and fuel economy.

"Automated vehicles open up possibilities for saving lives, saving time and saving fuel," said Antony Foxx at the Detroit Motor Show on Thursday. "Automated vehicles promise to move people and goods more efficiently than we are moving them today."

The announcement follows a comprehensive report on the state of the USA's infrastructure called Beyond Traffic, which outlines a gloomy future for commuters if substantial changes aren't implemented.

"We expect the US population to increase by 70 million people in the next 30 years," said Foxx. "By 2045, 75 per cent of Americans will reside in just 11 megaregions, which we all know do not have the infrastructure to accommodate this growth."

The Obama administration's financial proposal comes after a number of high-profile car companies criticised existing laws in the US surrounding autonomous vehicles.

Legislation currently differs substantially from one US region to the next, making it difficult for firms such as Google and Tesla to test self-driving technologies nationwide.

Google, for example, was forced to add steering wheels and brake pedals to its driverless car designs in 2014, following a change to safety laws in California. The changes also stated that autonomous vehicles had to be operated by qualified drivers – a move Google described as "perplexing" at the time.

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Reacting to significant advances in safety, Foxx has now revealed a timeline to produce updated guidelines for all state policy makers, in addition to a best-practice guide on the safe operation of fully autonomous vehicles for industrial use.

The government department has also announced its intention to relax and update its regulatory framework regarding safety on a case-by-case basis.

"I am personally asking automakers to submit more regulatory requests so that we can work with your progress, not hold it back," said Foxx.

Tesla's billionaire founder Elon Musk recently announced his intention to aggressively develop driverless technologies, predicting that his electric car company is just two years away from launching a fully autonomous vehicle.

Musk had earlier proclaimed that driving a vehicle is too dangerous for humans and will be outlawed as soon as autonomous vehicles are proved to be safer.

Several manufacturers are exploring driverless technologies. Swedish auto brand Volvo unveiled a concept last year that would allow drivers to relinquish controls when their journey gets boring, while revealing its plans to test 100 self-driving cars on city streets with members of the public by 2017.

Mercedes-Benz also released several autonomous concepts, including a vehicle designed as a living room. The German manufacturer has been working to deliver fully autonomous trucks to European roads within a decade.

According to a senior strategist at Audi, driverless cars will also transform the travel industry as business travellers will be able to avoid taking domestic flights to meetings and will sleep and work in their cars instead of using hotels.