Not surprisingly, NHTSA’s regulatory stance on automated vehicles is simple: improve vehicle safety by preventing driving errors. As automated vehicles begin to populate the roads, two themes arising from this stance have emerged:

1) The need to introduce automated technologies safely.

2) Public acceptance of these potentially life-saving technologies.

To tackle safety regulations as these types of cars become available in the marketplace, the U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA jointly issued a federal policy statement, titled Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, Accelerating the Next Revolution in Roadway Safety. This policy recommends that automated vehicle manufacturers develop a description of the Operational Design Domain (ODD), Object and Event Detection and Response (OEDR), and the fall-back minimum risk condition for their vehicles.

In addition, NHTSA is monitoring highly automated vehicles by requesting that manufacturers and other involved entities provide reports regarding how they are following the guidance. This “Safety Assessment Letter” should cover the following items:

  • 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

NHTSA has also issued enforcement guidelines related to automated technologies in motor vehicles. These guidelines emphasize NHTSA’s view that such systems and their components (hardware and software) fall under NHTSA’s regulatory authority. These guidelines are especially important as they relate to cybersecurity threats in motor vehicles and NHTSA’s intent to exercise its authority with respect to such threats.