Hearing held on safety standards for self-driving vehicles

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The drive to develop autonomous vehicles is evident throughout Silicon Valley where companies are working on the technology, so now federal regulators are starting to step in to set safety rules. (KGO-TV)

The drive to develop autonomous vehicles is evident throughout Silicon Valley where companies large and small are working on the technology, so now federal regulators are starting to step in to set safety rules.

Competition drives innovation, and a major focus is on creating autonomous vehicles that are safer than cars with human drivers.

RELATED: Google self-driving car strikes public bus in California

"We're here in Silicon Valley, and everybody wants to talk about Google. Every major manufacturer's got work on autonomous vehicles going on, so they really need to find ways to work with all of us to make sure this reaches its life-saving potential," NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind, PhD, said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is developing regulations for autonomous vehicles, and hearing from stakeholders.

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"Cars that are fully autonomous where there is no human involvement or task challenge our human concepts and experience of control. Even if the data suggest that humans are pretty bad drivers, some people feel we need more proof that cars without humans are safe," Google self-driving car director Chris Urmson PhD said.

One of those critics is John Simpson with Consumer Watchdog. He believes humans can't trust software to make all the right decisions. He cited 15 months worth of failure data from the Google self-driving car.

"341 times, it couldn't deal with the situation. At 272, it essentially said, oops, I can't deal with this, test driver you take over, 69 times the test driver was scared enough that he jumped in to save the day," Consumer Watchdog spokesperson John Simpson said.

Google disagrees, pointing out that over time, the success rate improved with more road testing.

Others hope federal rules will discourage states from setting their own standards.

"While we fully understand and support various state efforts to promote safety, we ask that the California DMV and NHTSA take steps to avoid a patchwork of state regulations that will increase consumer costs and stifle innovation," Auto Alliance spokesperson Jonathan Weinberger said.

The agency plans to seek public comment in the near future.
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