This month, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has updated its policies and guidance for automated vehicles—Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0 (AV 3.0). This update not only provides clarity and further guidance on DOT’s existing policies, including the use of voluntary safety standards and the proper roles for the Federal and state governments, but also expands DOT’s guidance beyond passenger vehicles to other mod

With the recently released and forecasted rulemakings, stakeholders in the automated vehicle industry, including OEMs, parts suppliers, and software companies, among others should plan on engaging DOT and other lawmakers as DOT sets the framework for the integration.

Importantly, stakeholders have a unique opportunity to comment on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) for a Pilot Program for Collaborate Research on Motor Vehicles with High or Full Driving Automation. Posing 22 questions about factors, legal considerations (e.g., regulatory relief), and safety analyses necessary for a successful program, DOT expects to learn about the progress of ADS and the ways it can facilitate testing and development for the benefit of consumers and the traveling public. Comments will shape a possible testing program that may inform standards and rules for the automated vehicle industry. Comments are due November 26, 2018.

From AV 2.0 to AV 3.0

AV 3.0 significantly builds on DOT’s 2017 guidance, Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety 2.0 (AV 2.0). AV 2.0 also offered a non-regulatory approach, providing voluntary guidance and 12 priority safety design elements, encouraged Voluntary Safety Self-Assessments, and delineated Federal and states’ roles in regulation, along with best practices for legislatures and state highway safety officials. AV 2.0 remains a helpful tool for manufacturers and other stakeholders considering automated vehicle technology design and development and for states in their development of certain laws relating to automated vehicles, but it generally lacked an implementation plan for DOT and its role in bringing automated vehicles to our roads.

AV 3.0 sets forth DOT’s six “automation principles”—(1) prioritizing safety; (2) remaining technology neutral; (3) modernizing regulations; (4) encouraging a consistent regulatory and operational environment; (5) preparing proactively for automation; and (6) protecting and enhancing the freedoms enjoyed by Americans. These principles are reflected throughout AV 3.0 and DOT intends to translate these principles into action through stakeholder engagement, best practices, voluntary standards, targeted research, and regulatory modernization.

The Role of the Federal Government: Safety, with an Emphasis on Innovation

AV 3.0 reaffirms (1) AV 2.0’s recommendation that technology developers voluntarily disclose safety assessments to the public, and (2) DOT’s safety regulatory authority for commercial vehicles and public transit vehicles, including automation for such vehicles. For example, DOT will interpret and develop regulations that include humans and automated technology as operators, as well as will consider how or whether commercial driver license qualifications should apply to computerized driving systems.

At the same time, DOT clarifies that NHTSA’s “current safety standards do not prevent the development, testing, sale or use of ADS built into vehicles that maintain the traditional cabin and control features of human-operated vehicles.”

Furthermore, DOT intends to avoid unnecessary impediments to innovation through several means:

  • Recognizing the potential preemptive effect of Federal safety standards that would supersede state or local laws that are inconsistent with a Federal standard;
  • Recognizing that current safety standards constitute “an unintended regulatory barrier to innovation” — particularly current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that assume operation by a human driver — and as such, DOT will, consistent with notice and comment requirements, adapt the definitions of “driver” and “operator” to recognize that such terms may refer to an automated system;
  • Reaffirming that self-certification more appropriately balances safety and innovation, and advancing this approach with the international community;
  • Calling for future motor vehicle safety standards to be more flexible and responsive, technology-neutral, and performance-oriented to accommodate rapid technological innovation;
  • Researching the removal of barriers under existing regulations, evaluating the safety impacts of technology, and using public investment to support development in technologies that may be difficult to commercialize;
  • Supporting vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) communications by preserving the 5.9 GHz spectrum for these communications; and
  • Allowing testing beyond the designated automotive vehicle proving grounds.

AV 3.0’s message: DOT is a partner in the safe development, testing, and integration of automated vehicles. Put into action, these policies should help existing manufacturers and new entrants deploy their vehicles on the road in a safe and timely manner.

Support from States and Private Industry

DOT also recognizes the role of States, local, and tribal governments in road safety and mobility. DOT encourages these governments to, among many efforts, open opportunities for automated vehicles, identify legal barriers to testing and deployment, adapt licensing and registration for automated vehicles, and assess and improve infrastructure for automated vehicles.

DOT calls on the private sector to be a leader in safety, transparent, and to engage the public. For example, DOT encourages disclosure of Voluntary Safety Self-Assessments, incorporation of new safety and automation approaches for commercial and public transit, adoption of best practices in cybersecurity, and identification of opportunities for voluntary data exchange. AV 3.0 also envisions that the private sector will continue to develop voluntary, consensus-based safety standards.

Paving a Path to Automation – Opportunities to Engage DOT

While AV 2.0 was voluntary guidance for the private sector and states, AV 3.0 sets forth specific efforts that DOT may take to improve the regulatory environment for testing and deployment:

  • NHTSA will seek comment on proposed changes to certain safety standards to accommodate automated vehicle technologies, as well as possible exceptions to certain standards that only apply when a human driver is present;
  • NHTSA will seek public comment on a proposal to streamline and modernize NHTSA’s exemption procedures;
  • The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) will consider whether and how to amend its existing regulations to accommodate automation, make targeted rule changes, interpretations, and supplements, and is soliciting feedback to understand the barriers to automation;
  • FMCSA is finalizing an ANPRM to address automation for commercial motor vehicles, including identifying regulatory gaps for inspections, repair, and maintenance; and
  • The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) will update its Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) and review existing standards for traffic control devices.

On October 10, 2018, NHTSA released an ANPRM for a Pilot Program for Collaborate Research on Motor Vehicles with High or Full Driving Automation. The national pilot program will enable NHTSA to facilitate, monitor, and learn from testing and development. NHTSA is seeking public comments on the factors and structure that are appropriate for NHTSA to consider, comments on the use of existing laws for the implementation of the program, and regulatory relief and exemptions that may be needed for companies to participate in the program. Based on the Q&A on these topics, with answers due November 26, 2018, NHTSA plans to develop a robust record regarding how NHTSA can encourage and facilitate research that will lead to automated vehicle standards and the integration of automated vehicles. NHTSA will ten assess the prospects for implementing a pilot program and the best program structure.

Each of these efforts represent an opportunity for the automate vehicle industry to engage DOT and help shape DOT’s intended partnership to automation.