autonomous vehicles

Driverless car policy aims to accelerate safe deployment

As vehicle and highway automation move into the fast lane, the Department of Transportation has developed a framework of autonomous vehicles policies that is meant to improve roadway safety and provide direction for the next administration.

The Federal Automated Vehicles Policy was released by DOT and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in September. It lays the foundation for the use of highly automated vehicles (HAV) and connected devices to prevent vehicle-based fatalities caused by human error and choices.

“On a safety standpoint, we’re trying to take advantage of this technology,” Blair Anderson, DOT’s under secretary for policy, said at a Nov. 15 Bloomberg Driverless Cars event in Washington, D.C.

The department wants both federal and state government to feel confident about using HAV technologies to improve transportation and public safety. The four-part policy, Anderson said, helps to “really set the framework of the discussion early on.”

The first part, titled “Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles,” covers pre-deployment design, development and testing practices for vehicles. It focuses on 15 areas -- from data recording and privacy to post-crash behavior, human machine interfaces and consumer education and training.

“It doesn’t necessarily tell [manufacturers] how they need to develop it,” Anderson said, “but they should be taking into account various industry standards that are out there.” These vehicles should be able to interact with traditional cars and human behavior on the road and adhere to an operational design domain – or a description of how the HAV system will operate in various weather environments, for example.

The second part, “Model State Policy,” discusses how the new technologies affect the federal and state government regulatory roles. The model describes a consistent, unified national framework that could be used to regulate motor vehicles with all levels of automated technology. The following section, “NHTSA’s Current Regulatory Tools,” defines the current agency regulatory processes.

According to Anderson, DOT and NHTSA would most likely continue to regulate the safety of the actual vehicles, including overall vehicle operations, software and mechanics.  States would remain in charge of insurance, liability, licensing and vehicle registration.

DOT also plans to help states understand how to leverage vehicle-to-vehicle and vehicle-to-infrastructure communication tools. “Many of these things have tremendous opportunities for helping with congestion in the cities,” Anderson said. This assistance includes providing test beds so that proven technology could be transferrable from city to city.

In the policy’s final section, “Modern Regulatory Rules,” DOT presents the additional research, tools, approvals, authorities and regulatory structures needed to move forward with the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles. These next steps, Anderson said, are where the incoming administration will play its part.

“The large majority of [the next steps] are ones that we know that we’re not going to accomplish before the end of the Obama administration,” he said. These rules must be handled and addressed as the environment matures.

About the Author

Amanda Ziadeh is a former reporter/producer for GCN.


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