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Transportation Department clears way for self-parking cars

Story highlights

  • Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx just approved BMW's request to activate the technology in 2016 7 series models
  • The federal government also plans to work with states and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators to develop guidelines for states to use regarding automated vehicles

(CNN)Vehicles as we know them are being revolutionized right before our eyes.

Automatic braking? Check.
    Crash avoidance technology, like lane departure warnings? Check.
    Rear-view cameras? Check.
    And the federal government just cleared the way for self-parking cars to be added to the list.
    Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx just approved BMW's request to activate the technology in 2016 7 series models sold in the United States. The technology allows the sedans to self-park, without the driver inside.
    The driver is required to first park the vehicle, turn it off, then exit the car. The driver must remain within six feet of the vehicle. Using a remote control, the vehicle parks itself using sensors and cameras. The driver can stop the automatic park whenever they want.
    After reviewing and "reinterpreting" existing federal safety regulations, the Transportation Department determined the technology complies with the requirements of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard.
    Foxx has been "reinterpreting" decades-old regulations in an effort to green-light new automotive technology that fits within existing standards. He has also encouraged manufacturers to suggest rule interpretation requests to help enable new developments in technology, the Transportation Department said.
    "When the Department's interpretation authority is not sufficient, Secretary Foxx further encouraged manufacturers to submit requests for use of the agency's exemption authority to allow the deployment of fully autonomous vehicles," the department said. "Exemption authority allows National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to enable the deployment of up to 2,500 vehicles for up to two years if the agency determines that an exemption would ease development of new safety features."
    As a strong advocate for automated vehicles, Foxx said he will continue to take a "fresh look" at old regulations.
    "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," Foxx said. "Today's actions, and those we will pursue in the coming months, will provide the foundation and the path forward for manufacturers, state officials, and consumers to use new technologies and achieve their full safety potential."
    Foxx made the announcement at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, Thursday. He also announced that within six months, the NHTSA will work with the auto industry to develop guidance on the safe deployment and operation of autonomous vehicles, providing a common understanding of the performance characteristics necessary for fully autonomous vehicles and the testing and analysis methods needed to assess them.
    The federal government also plans to work with states and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators to develop guidelines for states to use regarding automated vehicles so that there is a consistent national policy.
    "We know that 80% of car accidents are due to human error. So we ask ourselves, what happens if human error was eliminated? If the technology meets its promise, my back-of-the-envelope math tells me that more than 25,000 lives would have been saved in 2015 alone," Foxx told reporters.
    President Barack Obama's budget proposal for fiscal year 2017 would provide nearly $4 billion over 10 years for pilot programs to test connected vehicle systems in designated corridors throughout the country, and work with industry leaders to ensure a common multistate framework for connected and autonomous vehicles.