The US Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released new federal guidance for the implementation of autonomous driving: Automated Driving Systems (ADS): A Vision for Safety 2.0. This is the latest guidance for automated driving systems to industry and States; it replaces the earlier guidance document issued by the previous administration in September 2016 and offers a more flexible approach to advancing the innovation of automated vehicle safety technologies.
A Vision for Safety: 2.0 builds on the previous policy and incorporates feedback received through public comments and Congressional hearings. The 2.0 document provides voluntary guidance that encourages best practices and prioritizes safety. The document also provides technical assistance to States and best practices for policymakers. Specifically, the new Voluntary Guidance:
Focuses on SAE International Levels of Automation 3-5 – Automated Driving Systems (ADSs) – Conditional, High, and Full Automation);
Clarifies the guidance process and that entities do not need to wait to test or deploy their ADSs;
Revises unnecessary design elements from the safety self-assessment;
Aligns Federal Guidance with the latest developments and industry terminology; and
Clarifies Federal and State roles going forward.
As automated technologies advance, so will the Department’s guidance. It is intended to be flexible and to evolve as technology does. DOT and NHTSA are already planning for 3.0.
US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced the new guidelines at the University of Michigan’s Mcity Test Facility, a 32-acre site where industry and academic researchers evaluate connected and automated vehicles.
Huei Peng, director of Mcity and the Roger L. McCarthy Professor of Mechanical Engineering at U-M, and Jim Sayer, director of the U-M Transportation Research Institute, issued the following statement in response to the announcement:
The University of Michigan supports the US DOT’s new federal guidance for automated vehicles. A Vision for Safety 2.0 is an important step forward, and will help to guide and accelerate the development and testing of self-driving vehicles. Traffic deaths and injuries have been rising in recent years, and the adoption of automated vehicles and technologies will help save lives, cut fuel use and emissions, and bring mobility to those who cannot easily access transportation today.
These technologies can save lives and enrich lives and that’s why University of Michigan researchers and their industrial partners continue to provide global leadership in developing and deploying advanced driving system technologies. This new federal guidance will help the United States to secure its leadership position.
However, Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports, criticized the new guidance as a move to weaken oversight of automated vehicles.
This is a clear step backward for consumer safety that sends a troubling message about the Transportation Department’s priorities under the new administration. On the same day that the NTSB announced Tesla’s Autopilot system played a ‘major role’ in a May 2016 fatal crash [earlier post], Secretary Chao indicated that the Department will go easy on automakers, and that it will expect them to do less to verify the safety of emerging automated vehicle systems. It’s an abdication of responsibility.
Self-driving cars have enormous potential to improve mobility and safety on our roads. But innovation must be accompanied by sensible, strong federal oversight. The Department of Transportation should be asking more of automakers, not less. NHTSA needs to be empowered to protect consumers against new hazards that may emerge, and to ensure automated systems work as they’re supposed to without placing consumers at risk. Given the Administration’s approach, it is more crucial than ever for Congress to substantially improve its automated vehicle legislation to prioritize safety and empower NHTSA.—David Friedman, director of cars and product policy and analysis for Consumers Union