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Bits: Daily Report: Regulators Catching Up With Driverless Cars


Uber has begun testing driverless vehicles in Pittsburgh. Credit Jeff Swensen for The New York Times

Technology is changing so quickly that it is regularly outstripping regulations, often forcing federal regulators to play catch-up.


Consider drones, the flying machines that companies including Amazon want to use to make deliveries. As consumer drones increasingly became available, many municipal and state lawmakers passed rules about the machines at a rapid pace, concerned about the privacy and safety risks of the gadgets. Yet it was not until last year that the Federal Aviation Administration weighed in more definitively, setting up potential clashes between a patchwork of local drone regulations and federal rules.

On Monday, federal regulators again played catch-up with another fast-evolving technology: driverless and semiautonomous cars, writes Cecilia Kang. The Department of Transportation gave its strongest endorsement to technology that could lead to safer roads, issuing detailed guidelines for the first time for safety expectations and the role of state regulations for driverless cars, among other specifics.

The guidelines are influential, but many of these driverless and semiautonomous cars have already reached the mainstream. Tens of thousands of people already own Tesla electric cars that have a self-driving feature called Autopilot. Google is testing driverless cars in its hometown, Mountain View, Calif. And last week, Uber began trials of its driverless vehicles in Pittsburgh.

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