U.S. Department of Transportation Issues New Federal Policy for Automated Vehicles

The new policy lays a path for safe testing, deployment of new auto technologies

U.S. Department of Transportation Issues New Federal Policy for Automated Vehicles
Image: Pexels
September 20, 2016

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is issuing federal policy for automated vehicles, laying a path for the safe testing and deployment of new auto technologies that have enormous potential for improving safety and mobility for Americans on the road.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said that automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives and that this policy provides the framework to harness the benefits of such technology safely.

The policy sets a proactive approach to providing safety assurance and facilitating innovation through four key parts:

  • 15 Point Safety Assessment –The Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles for manufacturers, developers and other organizations includes a 15 point "Safety Assessment" for the safe design, development, testing and deployment of automated vehicles.
  • Model State Policy – This section presents a clear distinction between Federal and State responsibilities for regulation of highly automated vehicles, and suggests recommended policy areas for states to consider with a goal of generating a consistent national framework for the testing and deployment of highly automated vehicles.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) Current Regulatory Tools – This discussion outlines NHTSA's current regulatory tools that can be used to ensure the safe development of new technologies, such as interpreting current rules to allow for greater flexibility in design and providing limited exemptions to allow for testing of nontraditional vehicle designs in a more timely fashion.
  • Modern Regulatory Tools – This discussion identifies new regulatory tools and statutory authorities that policymakers may consider in the future to aid the safe and efficient deployment of new lifesaving technologies.

The policy also outlines options for the further use of current federal authorities to expedite the safe introduction of highly automated vehicles into the marketplace, as well as discusses new tools and authorities the federal government may need as the technology evolves and is deployed more widely.

Since the majority of crashes in the U.S. are caused by human error, this policy is moving forward with safe deployment of automated car technologies because of the huge potential they have for saving lives, according to NHTSA Administrator Dr. Mark Rosekind.

The Federal Automated Vehicle Policy is a product of significant public input and stakeholder discussions, including two open public meetings this year and an open public docket for comments.

"Public input has been essential to getting this right. There has been a strong call from state and local governments, industry, safety experts, mobility advocates, and average Americans to establish a clear policy for the deployment of automated vehicles on our roads," said Secretary Foxx.

Moving beyond the traditional U.S. auto regulation approach of reactive, post-sale enforcement of safety standards, the policy is a proactive measure.

A March 2016 study by DOT's Volpe notes that current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards do not directly address automated vehicle technologies.

Those standards can take many years to develop and are traditionally only put into force after new technologies have made significant market penetration. Instead, the automated vehicle policy envisions greater transparency as DOT works with manufacturers to ensure that safety is appropriately addressed on the front-end of development.