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While self-driving technology currently is being developed and tested across the country (like this self-driving Uber in Pittsburgh, PA), federal motor vehicle safety standards need to be updated to address vehicles lacking traditional design features. (image: Jennifer Shuttleworth)

Regulatory framework emerging as autonomy becomes reality

If the future of driving is autonomous, testing and legislation must be in accord to assure public safety when autonomous vehicles (AVs) begin to deploy.

In early September, thanks to a bipartisan effort to develop legislation for self-driving or autonomous vehicles (AVs), the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Rep. Robert Latta (R-OH) known as the SELF DRIVE (Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research in Vehicle Evolution) Act.

H.R. 3388 (SELF DRIVE Act) is first-of-its-kind legislation to ensure the safe and innovative development, testing, and deployment of self-driving cars. While self-driving technology is currently being developed and tested across the country, from the Silicon Valley to Detroit, federal motor vehicle safety standards need to be updated to address vehicles lacking traditional design features.

A parallel bill has been introduced by the U.S. Senate and sponsored by Senator John Thune (R-SD) called AV START (the American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies) Act. Discussions on this bill are ongoing with a vote yet to occur.

Ultimately, there will be a compromised bill based on the two—SELF DRIVE and AV START—that will be enacted into law to prepare for the deployment of AVs in the not-so-distant future.

Also in self-driving regulations news, the U.S. Dept. of Transportation (DOT) and its National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) introduced on September 12 (see an update to its autonomous driving guidelines with the release of a new voluntary-guidelines document for autonomous-vehicle development called “Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety.”

These three actions can help lay the groundwork for the future of autonomous driving—and all three have a common denominator: SAE’s Recommended Practice J3016 Taxonomy and Definitions for Terms Related to Driving Automation Systems for On-Road Motor Vehicles, which was published in September 2016, is referenced in each.

According to the U.S. House Energy and Commerce (E&C) Committee’s website, the SELF DRIVE Act will advance safety by prioritizing the protection of consumers; reaffirm the role and responsibilities of federal and state governments; update the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to account for advances in technology and the evolution of highly automated vehicles; and maximize opportunities for research and development in the U.S. to create jobs and grow economic opportunities so that America can remain a global leader in this industry.

The SDA Bill can be viewed in length at

The Senate’s AV START Act (S. 1885) contains similarities to the SELF-DRIVE Act. As stated in the introduction of the bill, it is “to support the development of highly automated vehicle safety technologies, and for other purposes.”

Highlights of AV START: provision for enhanced safety oversight; reinforces federal, state, and local roles; reduces barriers to deployment; maintains status quo for trucks and buses; brings existing rules up to speed; strengthens cybersecurity; improves vehicle safety and data sharing by establishing a committee of experts to identify and develop recommended standards (including for data recording and data access and sharing); promotes consumer education and improves mobility for Americans with disabilities.

The proposed bill can be read at:

As the latest guidance for automated driving systems to industry and States, 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

A full version of the document is available at:

Following the September 12 announcement from the U.S. DOT on self-driving cars, Energy & Commerced Committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR) and Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta (R-OH) released a statement, “The House took strong, bipartisan action to pass the SELF DRIVE Act and pave the way for self-driving cars and advanced collision avoidance technologies. We are pleased that Secretary Chao shares our commitment to safety, innovation, and ensuring America is a leader in this growing industry. We urge the Senate to act so we can quickly get self-driving vehicle legislation to the president’s desk and signed into law,” said Walden and Latta.

According to a release from the E&C Committee, the SELF DRIVE Act “would improve the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s ability to adapt federal safety standards to this emerging technology, and clarify federal and state roles with respect to self-driving cars.”

We’ll keep you up to date.

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