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New DOT guidelines seek to establish structure for the breakneck pace of autonomous-vehicle development (3D lidar image: Continental).

U.S. Dept. of Transportation issues new autonomous-vehicle guidelines

It’s only a suggestion, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation and its National Highway Traffic Safety Admin. said, but it’s what the auto and tech industries have been anticipating for months: the DOT on Sept. 12 released a new voluntary-guidelines document for autonomous-vehicle development called “Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety.” It is expected the document will be widely viewed both as a rulebook and a telegraph of the future direction of the federal regulatory posture on automated driving.

Specifically, the DOT said the new voluntary guidance found in A Vision for Safety 2.0:

  • 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
  • Clarifies Federal and State roles going forward

In the new document’s introductory message, DOT Secretary Elaine Cho said, “The U.S. Department of Transportation has a role to play in building and shaping this future by developing a regulatory framework that encourages, rather than hampers, the safe development, testing and deployment of automated-vehicle technology. Accordingly, the Department is releasing A Vision for Safety to promote improvements in safety, mobility, and efficiency through ADSs” (automated driving systems).

Cho also added that the federal government above all else seeks safety regarding the operation of automated vehicles, saying: “The U.S. Department of Transportation has a role to play in building and shaping this future by developing a regulatory framework that encourages, rather than hampers, the safe development, testing and deployment of automated vehicle technology.

A Vision for Safety 2.0, the DOT said, replaces the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy released just last year – and comes as both houses of Congress work to develop draft legislation for automated driving. Just prior to the DOT’s issuance of A Vision for Safety 2.0, the U.S. House of Representatives was considering legislation dubbed the SELF DRIVE Act that seeks to create a stable and benevolent regulatory framework for autonomous-vehicle development.

Sets boundaries for federal and state responsibilities

A Vision for Safety 2.0 presents the DOT’s nonregulatory posture regarding automated-vehicle technology safety in two primary sections and uses as its foundation the SAE’s federally-recognized levels of automation. The DOT intrinsically sees automated driving as encompassing systems used in SAE automated-driving Levels 3-5.

Section one of A Vison for Safety is titled Voluntary Guidance for Automated Driving Systems. It describes a dozen “priority safety design elements for consideration,” including vehicle cybersecurity, human machine interface, crashworthiness, consumer education and training, and post-crash ADS behavior.

The second section is Technical Assistance to States, Best Practices for Legislatures Regarding Automated Driving Systems (Best Practices). This section will likely be relentlessly scrutinized for its language that “clarifies and delineates Federal and State roles in the regulation of ADSs”—and continues by stressing, “NHTSA remains responsible for regulating the safety design and performance aspects of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment; States continue to be responsible for regulating the human driver and vehicle operations.”

Among the aspects of autonomous-vehicle development addressed are parameters for: the operational design domain (ODD), object and event detection and response, the human-machine interface (HMI) and data recording.

Intel’s Doug Davis, senior vice president and general manager of the company's Automated Driving Group, responded in an issued release, “I applaud the leadership of Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao for her focused work to revise the nation¹s Automated Vehicle Guidelines for the safe testing and deployment of self-driving vehicles. I also commend the recent passage of the SELF DRIVE Act in the U.S. House of Representatives. Such focus on self-driving vehicle policy drives us closer to Intel¹s vision for autonomous transportation ¬ including zero accidents and mobility for all. I look forward to fully reviewing Secretary Chao's revised Autonomous Vehicle Guidelines and working with her and the Department of Transportation to pave the way to our safer autonomous future.

The full text of the DOT’s 26-page “Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety,” can be viewed and downloaded here:

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