U.S. Unveils First Automated Vehicle Federal Guidelines

The U.S. now has an official Federal Automated Vehicle Policy.

This week, the U.S. Department of Transportation released its first guidance to carmakers who are working on self-driving cars at a fast and furious pace. The technology took off so quickly that it took the federal government awhile to catch up. Even now, Uncle Sam doesn’t pretend that it will be able to stay on top of all the new technologies as quickly as they evolve. But this is a start.

“Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, driving the single biggest leap in road safety that our country has ever taken,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “This policy is an unprecedented step by the federal government to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework for how to do it safely.”

The entire policy is a very long 116 page read. Here we break down the main takeaways. By the way, POTUS also weighed in on the subject in an op-ed piece Monday in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

Safety: 15-point automaker checklist

First and foremost, automakers will have to provide a lot of information about what they are doing. The government’s designed a 15-point safety assessment checklist to help the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration monitor design, development and testing. It will also help keep the public informed, too.

The guidelines ask automakers to provide voluntary reports with the following information about how they are developing and testing automated vehicles:

  • Data Recording and Sharing
  • Privacy
  • System Safety
  • Vehicle Cybersecurity
  • Human Machine Interface
  • Crashworthiness
  • Consumer Education and Training
  • Registration and Certification
  • Post-Crash Behavior
  • Federal, State and Local Laws
  • Ethical Considerations
  • Operational Design Domain
  • Object and Event Detection and Response
  • Fall Back (Minimal Risk Condition)
  • Validation Methods 

Feds vs States: Who does what

Authority is a big question when it comes to new technologies which involve many entities. So here’s how USDOT is handling that one.

The new policy states the NHTSA will be in charge of setting safety standards, which makes sense because that’s what it’s there for. The NHTSA will continue to investigate and manage recalls, plus enforce compliance with safety standards. Basically, if software or hardware is involved, the NHTSA handles it.

As for States, they’ll be in charge of licensing human drivers and registering AVs. Of course, they still will be in charge of enforcing traffic laws and conducting safety inspections.

Feds: We’ll be flexible.

Regulators know their current tools and rules may not keep up the pace with innovation. They can’t change them all now, at any rate. So they plan to allow some flexibility in interpreting certain current rules to allow greater flexibility in design. They will also provide limited exemptions to allow for testing of nontraditional vehicle designs in a more timely fashion.

Feds: We know automated vehicles are controversial

Finally, we have to point out the feds say they know self-driving vehicles are controversial and there are trust issues. It says seat belts, child seats and air bags were once controversial, too. But it ultimately believes automated vehicles removes human error and thus makes the roads safer.

“Ninety-four percent of crashes on U.S. roadways are caused by a human choice or error,” said NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind. “We are moving forward on the safe deployment of automated technologies because of the enormous promise they hold to address the overwhelming majority of crashes and save lives.”

You can read the entire 116 page policy here.

Photo Credit: USDOT
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