Fleet Management

Feds Release Autonomous Vehicle Policy

September 20, 2016

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx discusses new federal guidelines for autonomous vehicles during a Sept. 20 press conference. Screen shot courtesy of U.S. DOT.
U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx discusses new federal guidelines for autonomous vehicles during a Sept. 20 press conference. Screen shot courtesy of U.S. DOT.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has released the first federal guidelines for the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles, proposing new regulatory authority and outlining a 15-point “safety assessment” process aimed at ensuring safety compliance.

The policy’s goal, according to the Department of Transportation, is to “bring lifesaving technologies to the roads safely while providing innovators the space they need to develop new solutions.” Though the focus is primarily on self-driving vehicles, some of the guidelines also apply to lower levels of automation, including advanced driver-assistance systems already on the market.

Most of the provisions go into effect immediately, but U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx stressed during a press conference that the new policy represents a framework that “leaves room for more growth and changes in the future.” He characterized the policy as a “living document” that will be updated annually. The department will also continue to accept public input during a 60-day period.

The 15-point safety assessment provides automated vehicle performance guidance for manufacturers, developers, and other organizations. The assessment process is intended to set clear expectations for manufacturers developing and deploying automated vehicle technologies.

Manufacturers must document how they’re meeting guidelines in 15 areas: operational design domain, object and event detection and response, fall back/minimal risk condition (response and robustness of the autonomous vehicle upon system failure), validation methods, registration and certification, data recording and sharing, post-crash behavior, privacy, system safety, vehicle cybersecurity, human machine interface, crashworthiness, consumer education and training, ethical considerations (how vehicles are programmed to address conflict dilemmas on the road), and law compliance (federal, state, and local traffic laws).

The newly released federal policy also delineates federal and state regulatory responsibilities for autonomous vehicles, and offers a framework for future state regulatory action. Federal responsibilities, for example, include setting safety standards for new vehicles and managing safety recalls. Liability and insurance regulations, however, fall under state authority.

Additionally, the policy proposes giving the Department of Transportation — specifically its National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agency — new authority to require pre-market testing, data, and analyses from manufacturers. This marks a departure from NHTSA’s current self-certification system and represents a more proactive approach, Foxx noted.

Moreover, the policy proposes giving federal officials the authority to require manufacturers to take immediate action to address safety risks that pose “imminent hazards.”

New regulatory tools proposed include enhanced data recorders and the expansion of vehicle testing methods in order to make test environments more representative of the real world.

Some of these proposals would require Congressional action.

Click here to read the policy.

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