The Federal Government is Starting to Act on Autonomous Vehicle Technologies

The future is bright for autonomous vehicle development in the United States. The Trump administration, through Secretary Elaine Chao and the U.S. Department of Transportation, just announced a new guidance document for automated driving systems. Congress, also, just passed the SELF DRIVE Act which was sponsored by Ohio Representative Bob Latta, an alumnus of the American Legislative Exchange Council.

The DOT Guidance document both builds on the Obama administration’s efforts designed to encourage the development of self-driving cars and departs from the course set by the Bush administration. The Trump administration has continued the prior administration’s precedent of establishing voluntary guidelines, rather than imposing mandatory standards. On the other hand, the Trump administration will not “police automated vehicle safety,” at least before such systems become widely commercially available.

According to the administration’s press release, the guidance, specifically

  • Focuses on SAE International Levels of Automation 3-5 – Automated Driving Systems (ADSs) – Conditional, High, and Full Automation);
  • Clarifies the  guidance  process and those 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; and
  • Clarifies Federal and State roles going forward.

According to Secretary Chao, “The new Guidance supports further development of this important new technology… 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.”

Despite moving forward with guidance that will improve safety, some are not pleased with the administration’s efforts. A couple Democrats criticized Secretary Chao, accusing her of caving to pressure and placing automotive industry desires ahead of public safety.

Congress is also in the process of weighing in on the autonomous vehicle debate. The SELF DRIVE Act, which stands for Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution, passed unanimously. The Act would preempt state and local laws “regarding the design, construction, or performance” of autonomous vehicles and their component parts. It would direct the secretary of transportation to issue rules relating to safety certifications and establish cybersecurity standards for autonomous vehicles, among standards.

The Senate is also considering its own version, which according to some sources ,may include debates on whether autonomous commercial trucks should be included in a final bill.

It is encouraging to see the federal government tackle autonomous vehicle policy. Autonomous technology has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives, increase individual independence and transform transportation in the United States. To realize this transformative power innovators must be provided the liberty to experiment. The guidance document and SELF DRIVE Act are important steps to balancing vehicle safety and innovation in the field.

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