Recent USDOT and NHTSA announcement draws mixed reactions
The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently released new federal guidance for Automated Driving Systems (ADS): A Vision for Safety 2.0. This is the federal government’s latest guidance for automated driving systems to industry and states.
A Vision for Safety 2.0 calls for industry, state and local governments, safety and mobility advocates, and the public to lay the path for the deployment of automated vehicles and technologies.
The announcement was given last week in the Detroit area by U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao, who said, “The new guidance supports further development of this important new technology, which has the potential to change the way we travel and how we deliver goods and services. The safe deployment of automated vehicle technologies means we can look forward to a future with fewer traffic fatalities and increased mobility for all Americans. In addition to safety, ADS technology offers important social benefits by improving access to transportation, independence, and quality of life for those who cannot drive because of illness, advanced age, or disability.”
According to the government, A Vision for Safety 2.0 builds on the previous policy and incorporates feedback received through public comments and Congressional hearings. This updated version provides voluntary guidance intended to encourage best practices and prioritize safety. The document also provides technical assistance to states and what the government says are best practices for policymakers.
Highlights of the new guidelines include:
- A focus on SAE International Levels of Automation 3-5 – Automated Driving Systems (ADSs) – Conditional, High, and Full Automation);
- Clarification of the guidance process, and informs that entities do not need to wait to test or deploy their ADSs;
- Revisions of what the government says are unnecessary design elements from the safety self-assessment;
- A better alignment of Federal guidance with the latest developments and industry terminology;
- Clarification of federal and state roles going forward.
Some industry experts, such as Doug Davis, SVP and GM of Intel’s Automated Driving Group, hailed the announcement.
“To get ready for our autonomous future, we need to prepare our roads, cities, towns, and, more importantly, tomorrow's passengers,” said Davis. “A policy framework that prioritizes safety, innovation, and U.S. leadership will play a critical role. To this end, I applaud the leadership of Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao for her focused work to revise the nation’s 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.”
But others believe that the recent announcement serves to endanger the population by turning over too much control to manufacturers by making the new guidelines voluntary.
"This isn't a vision for safety," said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog's Privacy Project Director. "It's a roadmap that allows manufacturers to do whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want, turning our roads into private laboratories for robot cars with no regard for our safety."
Simpson stressed that the guidance is for Levels 3-5, but doesn’t address Level 2 technology—where only some driving technology is automated. He cited the Tesla Autopilot system as an example of how dangerous the technology is, even though a recent ruling shows numerous factors led to a fatal crash and not Tesla’s technology alone.
An additional problem, according to Simpson, is a lack of public feedback. "There hasn't been a NHTSA public hearing on autonomous vehicle policy since President Trump was inaugurated, and the highly touted DOT Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation (ACAT) has not even met and has been completely ignored by Trump's appointees."
The coming months will help determine how effective the guidelines will be. In the meantime, USDOT and NHTSA are already planning for 3.0. The new guidelines and more information on automated vehicles can be found at nhtsa.gov/av.