The Obama administration’s next annual budget will propose $4 billion over the next 10 years to fund the testing of self-driving cars because of their potential to reduce pollution, traffic and accidents, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said Thursday at the North American International Auto Show.
President Barack Obama will likely discuss this plan further on Jan. 20, when he tours the convention in Detroit to applaud auto innovation and further his agenda to rebuild America’s transportation infrastructure. Foxx warned that congestion on highways “will only get worse than it already it is” unless bold investments are made to make transportation more efficient and sustainable.
“If the government doesn’t change its ways, drivers in the future will not be moving on the highways – they will be crawling in traffic, ” he said. “In 2016, we are going to do everything we can to advance safe, smart innovation. We are bullish on automated vehicles.”
[READ: Would You Buy a Google or Tesla Driverless Car?]
Foxx pledged that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will work with companies and states within the next six months to start developing these regulations. Both policymakers and automakers like Nissan have said it will take until at least 2020 for technology and regulation to enable self-driving cars to operate safely on most American roads.
Foxx noted that the upcoming framework will boost the efforts by “providing clarity” so the market and the government can coordinate better on autonomous-driving technology.
“What we are doing is not just about the next six months – it is about making a development framework, ” he said.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind has also touted the potential of computerized driving systems to by assisting drivers rather than replacing them. Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk recently introduced partial self-driving features for his company's vehicles, but has cautioned drivers to remain alert while the system is on.
Google is also still perfecting its self-driving cars after 1.3 million miles worth of testing. The tech giant recently filed a report to the California Department of Motor Vehicles showing that its autonomous cars had to return control to the company’s human test drivers around 340 times between September 2014 and November 2015, for reasons like technology failure or related to the vehicle's safe operation.
Consumer demand could lead fully autonomous cars to account for 10 percent of global vehicle sales by 2035, a report by the Boston Consulting Group predicts. 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