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Cyber security a key feature of US rules on self-driving cars

The US government publishes a policy aimed at ensuring the safety of self-driving cars

Cyber security and privacy protections are among key safety considerations makers of self-driving cars will be required to meet under a recently published US government policy.

The US Department of Transportation’s 15-point safety assessment for self-driving cars aims to control how these vehicles are constructed, tested and deployed.

The move coincides with the release of research by Keen Security in China demonstrating the ability to control Tesla electric cars remotely.

The researchers demonstrate in a video that they were able to open the sunroof, work the indicators, move the car seat and unlock the door from a laptop while the vehicle was stationary.

While the test vehicle was in motion, they were able to activate the windscreen wipers, fold back the wing mirror, open the rear hatch and even apply brakes from 12 miles away.

US moves to take control of the safety of self-driving cars comes come weeks after Uber launched a self-driving pilot programme that allows customers to hail rides in driverless cars in Pittsburgh, according to Business Insider.

The move also comes just over two months after the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into what is widely regarded at the first fatality caused directly by a self-driving vehicle.  

The fatal accident occurred in May 2016 on a dual carriageway near the town of Williston in Florida. A truck crossing the road was struck by the Tesla Model S, driven by Joshua Brown. The roof of the car was ripped off and Brown killed as it slid under the truck, but the truck driver was not injured.

In a statement, Tesla said it appeared neither autopilot nor the driver had noticed the white side of the truck against a brightly lit sky, and so neither applied the brakes.

Read more about self-driving vehicles

  • US authorities launch an investigation after the driver of a Tesla Model S was killed in what is believed to be the first fatality involving a self-drive vehicle
  • Specialist motor insurance provider Adrian Flux introduces contract terms for a driverless car insurance policy.
  • Uber’s chief strategist recently spoke on BBC Radio 4 about the demise of car ownership. At this year’s CES, the car industry responded.
  • Connected vehicles raise big cyber security questions, but proposed regulations such as the SPY Car Act could help protect consumer data.

Tesla is just one of several motor manufacturers developing and testing self-driving vehicles, which means fully autonomous vehicles are likely to be common on public roads in future.

The US policy states that federal authorities will set safety standards, investigate and manage recalls and enforce compliance with safety standards, while state authorities will license human drivers, register self-driving vehicles, enforce traffic laws and conduct safety inspections.

Automated vehicles have the potential to save tens of thousands of lives each year, according to US president Barack Obama.

“Right now, for too many senior citizens and Americans with disabilities, driving isn’t an option. Automated vehicles could change their lives. Safer, more accessible driving. Less congested, less polluted roads. That’s what harnessing technology for good can look like,” he wrote in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Obama said the policy guidelines are aimed at ensuring consistency in safety across all US states and that the public has confidence in the safety of new technologies.

“If a self-driving car isn’t safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road. We won’t hesitate to protect the American public’s safety,” he said.

Self-driving cars in the UK

In 2015, the UK government laid down a non-statutory code of practice for autonomous car testing and created a joint unit at the Department for Transport and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills to co-ordinate policy.

The code of practice sets out rules around insurance for testing, training of drivers taking part in trials, and the involvement of local authorities and emergency services. It also contains guidance on security best practice to protect data generated during the trials and to prevent hackers from taking control of an autonomous vehicle.

A number of tests are taking place in the UK, including in Greenwich in London. In the Midlands, Jaguar Land Rover has set up a “living lab”, while in London, a test by Sweden’s Volvo is to begin in 2017.

Highways England is also participating in a number of experiments on public roads, including wireless transmission of information on road conditions to adapted vehicles, enabling them to route drivers around congestion.

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