- The Washington Times - Friday, January 15, 2016

The Obama administration on Thursday pledged $4 billion toward a 10-year plan that would fund research and development projects related to autonomous automobile technology in hopes of putting self-driving cars on American streets during the next decade.

Anthony Foxx, secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, told attendees at the Detroit Auto Show that the president will ask Congress to earmark about $3.9 billion in the 2017 budget to bankroll the decade-long effort.

“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.”

Mr. Foxx said that the multimillion-dollar pledge could ultimately eliminate as many as 25,000 fatalities each year by reducing the number of traffic accidents attributed to human error, and urged the tech and automobiles industries to work together towards perfecting driverless car technology.

“We’re entering a new world here, and we know it,” he said at the event while flanked by representatives from Google and General Motors. “We ask ourselves what if human error could be eliminated? That is a possibility worth pursuing.”

Current statistics suggest as many as four of five accidents are due to mistakes on the driver’s part, Mr. Foxx said.

The department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will begin drafting legal framework to encourage consistent rules nationwide for self-driving cars, he said. Currently, rules for autonomous autos differ from state to state.

In a statement, the department said the earmark is intended to “accelerate the development and adoption of safe vehicle automation through real-world pilot projects.”

“We are on the cusp of a new era in automotive technology with enormous potential to save lives, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and transform mobility for the American people,” the transportation secretary said, adding the administration’s plan “will provide the foundation and the path forward for manufacturers, state officials and consumers to use new technologies and achieve their full safety potential.”

President Obama said Tuesday during his final State of the Union address that the U.S. would “put tens of thousands of Americans to work building a 21st century transportation system.”

Earlier this month, GM said it was investing $500 million toward similar research it will conduct alongside Lyft, one of the world’s leading ride-sharing companies, to establish a network of “on-demand, autonomous” automobiles.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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