US DOT sets autonomous policy

The US Department of Transport (DOT) has unveiled the ‘world’s first autonomous vehicle policy’.

The US federal government has stepped in to set some guidelines for ‘highly automated vehicles’ in which a driver is able to regain control. The guidelines also set performance standards for self-driving cars and offers guidelines for how states can legislate autonomous vehicles.

US Department of Transportation’s secretary of transportation, Anthony R Foxx, said the federal policy was ‘the most comprehensive national, automated vehicle policy that the world has ever seen.’

Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway and Safety Transportation Administration (NHSTA), said the goal was to ‘create a path to fully-autonomous technology.’

Some of the key points of the policy include:

  • The DOT guidelines include a ‘15 Point Safety Assessment’ for manufacturers, developers and other organisations for the safe design, development, testing and deployment of automated vehicles.
  • Model state policy. This outlines differences between federal and state ‘responsibilities for regulation of highly automated vehicles,’ giving recommendations for states, in terms of policy, ‘with a goal of generating a consistent national framework for the testing and deployment of highly automated vehicles.’
  • NHTSA’s current regulatory tools. The DOT guidelines outline current rules ‘for testing of non-traditional vehicle designs in a more timely fashion.’
  • Modern regulatory tools. This section looks at tools policymakers can use ‘in the future to aid the safe and efficient deployment of new lifesaving technologies.’

Commenting on the policy, Jeremy Carlson, principal automotive analyst, IHS Markit said, ‘The federal guidance reflects a shift towards a more proactive regulatory approach – it covers not only how and where the vehicle is supposed to function but also cybersecurity, privacy, human-machine interface, consumer education and a number of other relevant topics intended to be addressed from the early phases of design through deployment. Such a wide approach to regulatory assessment reflects the rapid pace of innovation and complexity in the fast-moving mobility and transportation industries.

‘The federal guidance also aligns to definitions from the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) describing the levels of automation, a shift from NHTSA’s 2013 policy which was a competing standard in some ways. This creates a clearer and in some ways simpler framework for an ongoing conversation between industry stakeholders, advocates, and state and local governments that can help direct ongoing regulatory efforts as the industry continues to progress. This action is therefore a positive step in enabling progress in the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles.’

IHS Markit expects small volumes of autonomous vehicles throughout the next several years, before a decade of rapid growth beginning in 2025 which will see 76 million autonomous vehicles sold around the world from today through 2035. In the US, more than 18 million autonomous vehicles will be sold through 2035, creating new opportunities for automakers and drivers as well as new choices in personal mobility, broadly aligning to SAE Levels four and five.