Updating and building on guidance issued one year ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation published a new federal guidance document entitled Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0 (“AV 3.0”).

AV 3.0, released on October 4, 2018, incorporates extensive stakeholder feedback to provide updated voluntary guidance and policy considerations regarding safety standards and federal agencies’ roles in the development process of automated vehicles. DOT hopes this guidance will bring some clarity to a murky regulatory space and in turn will shepherd developers, manufacturers, and state and local governments in implementing autonomous vehicle technology in a safe, consistent, and organized way.

Industry stakeholders have long complained of outdated federal regulations which fail to keep pace with emerging technologies. Regulatory gaps have left companies guessing about how federal agencies might shoehorn cutting-edge products into the existing regulatory scheme. This uncertainty has forced companies to undertake the impossible task of quantifying risk in emerging autonomous-vehicle fields without concrete baselines. AV 3.0 aims to address at least some of these policy uncertainties by announcing the following key developments and agency-specific plans:

  • DOT will interpret and work to adapt the definitions of “driver” and “operator” to include an automated system; until now they have referred exclusively to a human.
  • Numerous federal agencies, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), will be streamlining procedures and updating regulations to fill gaps and accommodate new connected and automated-vehicle technologies. Specifically:
    • NHTSA will propose a streamlined procedure to process exemption petitions.
    • FMCSA will initiate proposed rulemaking to identify regulatory gaps in the areas of inspection, repair, and maintenance for autonomous driving systems.
    • FHWA will update its 2009 manual on uniform traffic control devices to take into consideration new technology.

The good news for industry and competition is that AV 3.0 is technology-neutral and does away with DOT’s prior designation of ten “Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds” announced in January 2017. This is a candid recognition that DOT should not “favor particular locations or . . . pick winners and losers.” This technologically and geographically neutral position is a welcome boon for startups and established players alike, as the race to safely put autonomous vehicles on the road gains momentum.

DOT now invites public comment on AV 3.0, which can be found in full at the DOT website.

You can watch the October 4 AV 3.0 publication event—including comments from DOT Secretary Elaine L. Chao—via recorded webstream.