U.S. to Rewrite Rules that Obstruct Autonomous Car Development

DoT focuses on removing unnecessary barriers and issuing voluntary guidance rather than regulations.


By Murray Slovick, Contributing Editor

Emphasizing that “fully automated cars and trucks that drive us, instead of us driving them, are a vision that seems on the verge of becoming a reality,” the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) released an 80-page update of its principles entitled “Automated Vehicles 3.0: Preparing for the Future of Transportation.” AV 3.0 builds upon—but doesn’t replace—voluntary guidance provided in “Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety,” issued in 2016.

In introductory remarks, U.S. DoT Secretary Elaine L. Chao said AV 3.0 “introduces guiding principles and describes the Department’s strategy to address existing barriers to safety, innovation, and progress. It also communicates the Department’s agenda to the public and stakeholders on important policy issues, and identifies opportunities for cross-modal collaboration.”

Automated Vehicles 3.0 outlines how to work with the U.S. DoT as automation technology evolves. (Source: DoT)

The document discusses plans to revise safety rules that bar autonomous cars from the roads without equipment such as steering wheels, pedals, and mirrors. It further provides guidance for driver engagement methods during testing and for the training and licensing of test drivers. AV 3.0 includes the following key policy clarifications:

  • States that U.S. DoT will interpret and adapt the definitions of “driver” and “operator” to recognize that such terms do not refer exclusively to a human, but may include an automated system.
  • Affirms U.S. DoT’s authority to establish motor-vehicle safety standards that allow for vehicles without steering wheels, pedals, or mirrors—and notes that such an approach may require a more fundamental revamping of its approach to safety standards for application to automated vehicles.
  • Recognizes that given the rapid increase in automated vehicle testing activities in many locations there is no need for U.S. DoT to favor particular locations or to pick winners and losers. As a result, the Department no longer recognizes the designations of 10 Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds announced on January 19, 2017.
  • Provides considerations and best practices for state and local governments to support the safe and effective testing and operation of automation technologies, urging them to work to remove barriers—such as unnecessary and incompatible regulations—to automated-vehicle technologies.
  • Supports the development of voluntary technical standards and approaches as an effective non-regulatory means to advance the integration of automation technologies into the transportation system. It encourages automated-driving-system developers to make their voluntary safety self-assessments public to increase transparency and confidence in the technology.
  • Affirms the Department is continuing its work to preserve the ability for transportation safety applications to function in the 5.9-GHz spectrum.

DoT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) also is seeking public comment on “the factors and structure that are appropriate for the Agency to consider in designing a national pilot program that will enable it to facilitate, monitor, and learn from the testing and development of the emerging advanced vehicle safety technologies and to assure the safety of those activities.”

Specifically, NHTSA is requesting comments on:

  • Potential factors that should be considered in designing a pilot program for the safe on-road testing and deployment of vehicles with high and full driving automation and associated equipment.
  • The use of existing statutory provisions and regulations to allow for the implementation of such a pilot program.
  • Additional elements of regulatory relief (e.g., exceptions, exemptions, or other potential measures) that might be needed to facilitate the efforts to participate in the pilot program and conduct on-road research and testing involving these vehicles, especially those that lack controls for human drivers and thus may not comply with all existing safety standards.

The NHTSA is looking for comments from interested stakeholders,” including State and local authorities, companies, researchers, safety advocates, and other experts interested in, engaged in, or planning to become engaged in the design, development, testing, and deployment of motor vehicles with high and full driving automation.” Comments should reference Docket Number NHTSA-2018-0092 a.


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