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Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

Policymakers around the world are trying to write global rules for governing self-driving cars before the technology gets too far down the road.

Why it matters: Automated vehicles are still being developed, and so are the methods to judge their safety. Shared global standards and regulations for self-driving cars would make it easier for manufacturers to design and sell vehicles around the world and help to build public trust.

What's happening: Next month in San Francisco, the World Economic Forum will convene about 40 global experts on AVs and urban mobility to start hammering out guidelines that could lead to global standards and regulations for AV safety.

  • Experts on the Global Autonomous and Urban Mobility Council will share research findings and different approaches to validating AV safety.
  • The group will include industry executives, technology experts, regulators, community groups and academics.
  • "What we realized is there is no place internationally to deal with governing issues associated with these technologies," says Michelle Avary, head of autonomous and urban mobility at WEF.

A UN committee is also working towards global policies and regulations for automated vehicles.

  • Members of a UN working group from 40 countries met during this week's MobilityTalks International conference at the Washington, D.C. Auto Show.
  • With AV technology still in its infancy, it's an opportunity for governments to harmonize policies around the world, Matt Blunt, president of the American Automotive Policy Council, said during a panel with some of his global counterparts.
  • "If we don't, we'll end up like we are with today's vehicles, where we can't trade as freely around the world as we want."

Between the lines: There are many aspects to defining safety in an AV environment, from the technology itself, to the security of passengers and pedestrians who interact with them, to the insurance risks associated with their operation.

  • Then multiply those challenges by the dozens of countries that are trying to deploy AVs in the next two decades.

Even licensing and permitting AVs is a challenge.

  • "We know how to license and permit a human driver. How do you license technology that is evolving?" says Avary. "There is no good answer."

The World Economic Forum is hoping companies and governments will share insights — not just raw data — as the technology is developing so they can be more agile in their regulatory stances.

  • "What Shanghai is developing could be very applicable to Austin, Texas," says Avary. "They need to have a place to talk about this stuff and grow together."

Yes, but: Regulators around the world can't even agree on common standards for vehicle headlamps and sideview mirrors.

  • That's the legacy of a pre-global industry, argues Bill Gouse, director of government programs for SAE International.
  • Regulations used to be written to create trade barriers. Today's automakers have research and development centers all over the world and want to share knowledge across countries.
  • But the scale of the job is massive and will take years, notes Gouse.
  • "It's pioneering. It's exciting, at a glacier pace."

Editor's note: This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Matt Blunt's name.

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 4: Trump turns on Barr

Photo illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Drew Angerer, Pool/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. Axios takes you inside the collapse of a president with a special series.

Episode 4: Trump torches what is arguably the most consequential relationship in his Cabinet.

Attorney General Bill Barr stood behind a chair in the private dining room next to the Oval Office, looming over Donald Trump. The president sat at the head of the table. It was Dec. 1, nearly a month after the election, and Barr had some sharp advice to get off his chest. The president's theories about a stolen election, Barr told Trump, were "bullshit."

In photos: Protests outside fortified capitols draw only small groups

Armed members of the far-right extremist group the Boogaloo Bois near the Michigan Capitol Building in Lansing on Jan. 17. About 20 protesters showed up, AP notes. Photo: Seth Herald/AFP via Getty Images

Small groups of protesters gathered outside fortified statehouses across the U.S. over the weekend ahead of President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration Wednesday.

The big picture: Some protests attracted armed members of far-right extremist groups but there were no reports of clashes, as had been feared. The National Guard and law enforcement outnumbered demonstrators, as security was heightened around the U.S. to avoid a repeat of the Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riots, per AP.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
9 hours ago - World

China's economy grows 6.5% in Q4 as country rebounds from coronavirus

A technician installs and checks service robots to be be used for food and medicine delivery in Jiaxing, Zhejiang Province, China, on Sunday. Photo: Hu Xuejun/VCG via Getty Images

China's economy grew at a 6.5% pace in the final quarter of 2020, the national statistics bureau announced Monday local time, topping off a year in which it grew in three of four quarters and by 2.3% in total.

Why it matters: No other major economy managed positive growth in 2020. Although the COVID-19 pandemic was first detected in China, the country got the virus under control and became one of the main positive drivers of the global economy even as the rest of the world was largely under lockdown.

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