NHTSA Paves The Way For Self-Driving Vehicles
The U.S. Department of Transportation is taking steps to pave the way for automated vehicles. The department issued a four-part federal policy in mid-September 2016 that addresses the safety of driverless vehicles.
“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 policy sets a proactive approach to providing safety assurance and facilitating innovation through four key parts.
15 Point Safety Assessment -The Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles for manufacturers, developers and other organizations includes a 15 point “Safety Assessment” for the safe design, development, testing and deployment of automated vehicles.
Model State Policy - This section presents a clear distinction between Federal and State responsibilities for regulation of highly automated vehicles, and suggests recommended policy areas for states to consider with a goal of generating a consistent national framework for the testing and deployment of highly automated vehicles.
NHTSA’s Current Regulatory Tools - This discussion outlines NHTSA’s current regulatory tools that can be used to ensure the safe development of new technologies, such as interpreting current rules to allow for greater flexibility in design and providing limited exemptions to allow for testing of nontraditional vehicle designs in a more timely fashion.
Modern Regulatory Tools - This discussion identifies new regulatory tools and statutory authorities that policymakers may consider in the future to aid the safe and efficient deployment of new lifesaving technologies.
“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.”
The Federal Automated Vehicle Policy is a product of significant public input and stakeholder discussions, including two open public meetings this year and an open public docket for comments. The department is also soliciting additional public comments for the subsequent 60 days on the policy, which is published at www.transportation.gov/AV. Through a series of next steps and in response to public comments, DOT intends to update the policy annually.
“Public input has been essential to getting this right. There has been a strong call from state and local governments, industry, safety experts, mobility advocates, and average Americans to establish a clear policy for the deployment of automated vehicles on our roads,” said Secretary Foxx. “There are huge upsides and significant challenges that come with automated vehicle technology, and we will continue the conversation with the pubic over the coming months and years as this technology develops.”
Moving beyond the traditional U.S. auto regulation approach of reactive, post-sale enforcement of safety standards, the policy is a proactive measure. A March 2016 study by DOT’s Volpe noted that current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards do not directly address automated vehicle technologies. Those standards can take many years to develop and are traditionally only put into force after new technologies have made significant market penetration. Instead, the automated vehicle policy envisions greater transparency as DOT works with manufacturers to ensure that safety is appropriately addressed on the front-end of development.
“New technologies developed in the 20th century, like seat belts and air bags, were once controversial but have now saved hundreds of thousands of American lives,” Secretary Foxx said. “This is the first in a series of proactive approaches, including the release of a rule on Vehicle to Vehicle communications, which will bring lifesaving technologies to the roads safely and quickly while leaving innovators to dream up new safety solutions.”
The primary focus of the policy is on highly automated vehicles, or those in which the vehicle can take full control of the driving task in at least some circumstances. Portions of the policy also apply to lower levels of automation, including some of the driver-assistance systems already being deployed by automakers today.
Simultaneously with this policy, NHTSA is releasing a final enforcement guidance bulletin clarifying how its recall authority will apply to automated vehicle technologies. In particular, it emphasizes that semi-autonomous driving systems that fail to adequately account for the possibility that a distracted or inattentive driver-occupant might fail to retake control of the vehicle in a safety-critical situation may be defined as an unreasonable risk to safety and subject to recall.
Other organizations are applauding the steps NHTSA has taken. The Property Casualty Insurers Association of America issued a statement on the Federal Automated Vehicles policy, “This guidance is a positive step to protect public safety and encourage innovation,” said Bob Passmore, PCI’s assistant vice president. “PCI commends Secretary Foxx for clearly acknowledging that it’s the state’s role to regulate insurance as well as how liability for accidents is determined among the highly automated vehicle owners, operators, passengers and manufacturers. PCI will continue to review the document and work with our members to identify areas of concern and looks forward to working with policymakers on these issues in the future.”
The full policy and additional materials can be found at www.transportation.gov/AV.