What is the Government’s Current Stance on Autonomous Vehicles?

I recently read the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA’s) policy on automated vehicles. The NHTSA is responsible for developing, setting, and enforcing Federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSSs) and regulations for motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment. This agency also works closely with the Environmental Protection Agency, which has parallel authority with regard to greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.

Here is what I found to be the most important take-aways:

  • NHTSA acknowledges the likely transformative impact automated vehicle technologies can have on our society. This is heavily focused on safety; however, the policy recognizes that there will be economic, environmental, and mobility benefits as well.
  • Autonomous vehicles are categorized as Level 4 in their Vehicle Level Automation definitions. These are defined as being “designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip. This includes both occupied and unoccupied vehicles. By design, safe operation rests solely on the automated vehicle system.” Vehicles that rely on information from other vehicles (V2V) or infrastructure (V2I) do not fall into this category.
  • NHTSA does not recommend that states authorize the operation of self-driving vehicles for purposes other than testing at this time. They believe there are too many technological and human performance issues to address first.
  • NHTSA is focusing its upcoming research on human factors (e.g., driver/vehicle interaction, driver acceptance, and driver training), electronic controls system safety, and system performance requirements.

I was impressed by the read-ability of the policy and was pleasantly surprised to see where the agency is focusing its research efforts. That being said, I think there’s a lot missing! More to come on that…

About Lauren Isaac

Lauren Isaac is the Director of Business Initiatives for the North American operation of EasyMile. Easymile provides electric, driverless shuttles that are designed to cover short distances in multi-use environments. Prior to working at EasyMile, Lauren worked at WSP where she was involved in various projects involving advanced technologies that can improve mobility in cities. Lauren wrote a guide titled “Driving Towards Driverless: A Guide for Government Agencies” regarding how local and regional governments should respond to autonomous vehicles in the short, medium, and long term. In addition, Lauren maintains the blog, “Driving Towards Driverless”, and has presented on this topic at more than 75 industry conferences. She recently did a TEDx Talk, and has been published in Forbes and the Chicago Tribune among other publications.
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