Uber has launched a self-driving taxi experiment in Pittsburgh (Photo: Uber)

The US government has drafted guidelines for the autonomous-vehicle revolution, providing more details on how it expects driverless cars to be regulated.

The paper, termed "Federal Automated Vehicles Policy," provides regulatory guidelines for today's automated vehicles, but acknowledges that the trend is only just beginning.

"We do not intend to write the final word on highly automated vehicles here," US Transportation Secretary Antony Foxx said in his introductory message to the report. "We intend to establish a foundation and a framework upon which future agency action will occur."

The US government, in the guidelines, explicitly embraces the increasingly sophisticated driver-assistance systems being introduced today. The roadmap cites the 35,092 people who died on US roads in 2015 as a major factor, but also notes that 94 pc of all crashes are tied to erroneous decisions made by traffic participants.

"Right now, too many people die on our roads," US President Barack Obama wrote in a contribution to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspaper this week.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) policy offers guidelines on how highly automated vehicles can be tested by the general public before they go on sale.

It also outlines how US states will have to cooperate to make sure there will be a "consistent national framework" that governs the introduction and use of autonomous vehicles.

And the government paper identifies potential new regulatory initiatives needed so the DOT can effectively manage a whole new category of vehicles.

"This challenge requires DOT to examine whether the way DOT has addressed safety for the last 50 years should be expanded to realize the safety potential of automated vehicles over the next 50 years," the policy paper said.

Obama, in his Post-Gazette contribution, stressed that, for autonomous driving to be successful, "it's important to get this technology right from the start."

The public shouldn't lose confidence in such new technologies because they are deemed unsafe, he said, adding that the US Administration will take a proactive role in this respect.

"Make no mistake: If a self-driving car isn't safe, we have the authority to pull it off the road," Obama said. "We won't hesitate to protect the American public's safety."

Earlier this year, a Tesla electric sports car with semi-autonomous "Autopilot" systems deployed was involved in a deadly traffic accident, sparking a wave of discussion about the safety of today's technology.

Obama published his comments in the Pittsburgh newspaper, as the city was selected by ride-hailing company Uber for a large test of driverless taxis.

While it is unclear when exactly fully autonomous vehicles will be on the road, most carmakers and analysts expect cars to come to market with increasingly sophisticated driver-assistance systems in coming years. Those cars will be able to drive autonomously under certain conditions, but human drivers will still be required.

IHS Markit predicts that "a decade of rapid growth" will then start for autonomous vehicles in 2025. The market researchers forecast that between now and 2035, 76 million autonomous vehicles will be sold worldwide.

In the US, IHS predicts, more than 18 million autonomous vehicles will be sold through 2035.

-By Arjen Bongard