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The Feds have a three-point plan to accelerate rollout of new technology in cars

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Elijah Nouvelage/Reuters/File

(Read caption) A line of Lexus SUVs equipped with Google self-driving sensors await test riders during a media preview of Google's prototype autonomous vehicles in Mountain View, California September 29, 2015. Several federal agencies are beginning to roll out plans that would support the development of many auto technologies, self-driving capabilities among them.

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If you're one of the many folks who's criticized federal agencies for being behind the times on auto issues, we've got good news. The feds have heard you, and they've got a three-point plan to bring themselves -- and automakers -- up speed.

SLOW ROLLERS

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For a while, it seemed as if there wasn't much love for the auto industry or the agencies that regulated it.

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In the wake of the Great Recession, car sales hit the skids, and automakers were criticized for not being nimble enough to adapt to a rapidly changing marketplace. Some companies declared bankruptcy, like General Motors and Chrysler (now Fiat Chrysler, thanks to its restructuring). Others shed brands, as Ford did.

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Then came Tesla and a slew of other start-ups, who claimed that the traditional auto industry wasn't moving quickly enough to deploy next-gen technology -- technology that could save lives, improve traffic flow, and cut down on fuel waste. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was often cited as part of that problem because of its slow, bureaucratic approval process. 

And of course, 2014 saw a host of recalls, including massive ones involving GM ignition switches and Takata airbags. In 2015, the headline-grabber was Volkswagen, which revealed in September that some 11 million of its diesel vehicles were spewing far more pollutants into the atmosphere than anyone thought. While the automakers and suppliers bore the brunt of the blame, some rested on the shoulders of NHTSA, which was, once again, accused of being a bloated hindrance.

PICKING UP SPEED

Now, the Department of Transportation and NHTSA are fighting back. This week and later this month, they're unveiling a three-point plan to bring the auto industry up to speed and accelerate the rollout of new technology to vehicles:

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  • The first piece of that plan debuts today, when U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx pays a visit to the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. Among the announcements he's expected to make is a proposal to speed up the development of autonomous cars. Though Foxx has previously said that the DOT has no intention of regulating self-driving vehicles, he wants the agency to establish baselines that all autonomous cars must meet before hitting the road. 
  • Tomorrow, NHTSA's Mark Rosekind will make his own appearance at NAIAS. He's widely expected to talk about a new consortium between automakers and the federal government that will make it easier and faster for car companies to roll out new safety technology. The consortium could be modeled after the Federal Aviation Administration, which has encouraged airlines to share their safety technology with competitors, making the skies safer for all.
  • And before the month is through, NHTSA says that up to ten automakers will announce plans to provide emergency braking systems as standard equipment on many of their vehicles.  

This article first appeared at The Car Connection.


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