On November 19, 2020, NHTSA issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPRM”) asking interested parties and the public to provide the agency with information intended to help NHTSA devise a “Framework for Automated Driving Safety” that will allow the agency to implement safety standards for the operation and performance of automated driving systems. Comments are due 60 days after the ANPRM is published in the Federal Register. NHTSA last addressed AV in March, when it issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking addressing occupant safety and crashworthiness for AVs that do not have typical seating configurations. This notice addresses operation of the automated systems in SAE Level 4 and 5 vehicles.

NHTSA posits that it should focus on four primary functions of the automated systems: sensing (“how the ADS receives information about its environment”); perception (“how the ADS categorizes other road users…, infrastructure…, and conditions”); planning (“how the ADS analyzes the situation… and makes decisions”); and control (“how the ADS executes the driving functions necessary to carry out the plan”). Commenters are invited to address both process (how the various functions should be measured and evaluated) and engineering (performance metrics, thresholds and procedures) measures relating to each of the four core functions, and how this framework should be administered once it is in place. NHTSA’s goal is “development of FMVSS governing the competence of ADS.” NHTSA asks commenters to discuss what engineering and process measures should be included in a safety framework, and “what aspects of ADS performance are suitable for potential safety performance standard setting (i.e., what aspects of ADS performance should manufacturers be required to certify that their systems possess?).” NHTSA also “wishes to know which aspects [of these systems] are so important that they should be subject to separate Federal regulations.” To help commenters address these open questions, the ANPRM concludes by asking commenters to address dozens of specific questions relating to the larger issues in the ANPRM.

The ANPRM gives some hints as to NHTSA’s thinking. It mentions its MPrISM safety metric, the 2018 RAND Corporation report on AV safety, NVIDIA’s “Safety Force Field,” Safety First for Automated Driving’s 2019 paper, and Intel’s Mobileye’s Responsibility Sensitive Safety paper as approaches it is monitoring. It also refers to ISO 26262, 21448 and UL 4600 as process standards that might be part of a framework, and NHTSA also hints at the idea of an “ADS competency evaluation” as part of NCAP.

The ANPRM concludes with a series of “critical factors NHTSA expects to weigh in assessing comments. These include a “common standardized minimum level of safety” reached consistently and reliably, technology neutrality, and predictability, which will allow manufacturers to anticipate levels of performance. NHTSA’s questions range from the commenter’s “conception of a safety framework” and NHTSA’s administrative mechanism for implementing it. Comments on these very important issues are due 60 days after the ANPRM is published in the Federal Register.