U.S. Updates Automated-Vehicle Guidelines

Speaking in Washington, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao reiterates the federal government’s position that laws crafted by Washington could impede innovation taking place in the space.

James M. Amend, Senior Editor

October 4, 2018

4 Min Read
USDOT’s “AV 3.0” guidelines released.
USDOT’s “AV 3.0” guidelines released.

The U.S. Department of Transportation releases updated guidelines for the development and deployment of automated vehicles, reinforcing its intentions to refrain from imposing regulations but acknowledging laws around the technology may be necessary in the future.

“Whenever possible, (USDOT) will support the development of voluntary, consensus-based technical standards and approaches that are flexible and adaptable over time,” the federal agency outlines in “Preparing for the Future of Transportation Automated Vehicles 3.0.”

“When regulation is needed, USDOT will seek rules that are as nonprescriptive and performance-based as possible.”

The third set of federal AV guidelines in as many years does continue to push regulation of AV testing and deployment to the state and local level and says USDOT will work to ensure those rules are consistent across the country. It continues to ask the industry to establish technical standards for AVs, perform voluntary self-assessments and self-report findings.

Speaking in Washington, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao reiterates the federal government’s position that laws crafted by Washington would risk impeding innovation taking place in the space.

“There will not be top-down command-and-control,” she says, citing the precedent of safety improvements in the aviation industry under self-reporting. “In this sector of automated vehicle technology, we are doing the same thing.”

Automakers and suppliers are racing to become leaders in AV technology because it underpins future business models focused on mobility services, where driverless taxis will supplant a large share of the traditional piloted/ownership model.

Mitch Bainwol, president and CEO of the Auto Alliance, a lobbyist for automakers in Washington, specifically acknowledges the inclusion of other modes of transportation in AV 3.0

Commercial vehicles, other on-road transit and roadways are addressed in addition to passenger vehicles in the guidelines for the first time.

“(It) demonstrates the tremendous potential these technologies offer for the future of transportation,” Bainwol says in a statement.

Chao says USDOT also will remain technology-neutral and allow consumers to choose winners, but at the same time she underscores a need to alleviate safety concerns around fully driverless cars.

“While the technology holds promise, (developers) have not yet won public acceptance,” she says, citing highly publicized crashes in recent months involving AVs and research showing 75% of Americans fear the technology.

“I have consistently challenged the high-tech companies to step up and address the public’s legitimate concerns about the safety, security and privacy of this new technology.” Chao adds. “Without public acceptance, the full potential of this technology will not be realized.”

Other highlights of the fresh guidelines include a pledge to modernize federal motor-vehicle safety standards to reflect, for example, AVs without steering wheels and foot pedals currently required under law.

“USDOT will modernize or eliminate outdated regulations that unnecessarily impede the development of automated vehicles or that do not address critical safety needs,” the agency says.

Finch Fulton, deputy assistant secretary-transportation policy, at USDOT, tells journalists in a conference call following Chao’s remarks that modifications to federal safety standards would follow a much quicker timeline than traditional rulemaking to accommodate the pace of AV innovation.

However, General Motors, which plans to deploy a fleet of driverless taxis in 2019, applied in January for a waiver from laws requiring steering wheels and foot pedals. USDOT says it is processing the request.

In a statement to Wards, GM says it supports the new guidelines.

“General Motors commends the Department of Transportation and Secretary Elaine Chao on issuing new guidance for the safe development and deployment of self-driving vehicles. AV 3.0 provides continued guidance for the safe development, design, manufacture and deployment of self-driving vehicles, and provides new guidance for autonomous technology in other modes of transportation.”

However, the automaker also urges the U.S. Senate to pass a bill called the AV START Act and reconcile it with the House-proposed SELF DRIVE Act, a pair of bills meant to speed AVs to market and more clearly delineate federal and state role with respect to the technology.

GM says the laws would “allow the full deployment of self-driving vehicles which can help save thousands of lives and bring new freedom of mobility to seniors, persons living with disabilities and other underserved populations.”

Release of the guidelines comes on the heels of new U.S. traffic-fatality data showing crashes were down nearly 2% in 2017 after two previous years of significant increases. USDOT cites speeding, distracted driving and driving under the influence as key factors in the 37,133 motor-vehicle fatalities last year.

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