Obama administration to unveil guidelines on driverless cars
The Obama administration Tuesday will unveil its long-awaited guidance update for self-driving vehicles, outlining its expectations for automakers and tech companies, some of which are already bringing those cars to the road.
The guidelines contain a model policy for states that want to take an active role in regulating how self-driving vehicles are tested and driven within their borders. A DOT fact sheet released Monday says the policy prototype “supports the establishment of a consistent national framework of laws and policy to govern automated vehicles” and covers areas like permitting testing on public roads.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told reporters Monday that the model policy makes clear that long-standing state laws pertaining to human drivers will still apply.
The policy update also includes a 15-point safety assessment for manufacturers to follow to ensure autonomous vehicles are safely designed, developed, tested and deployed. As part of the process, automakers will have to document to federal regulators how they’re addressing issues like cybersecurity and ethical considerations — like whether to program a car to hit another vehicle rather than a pedestrian, or vice versa.
While regulators will want to be assured that manufacturers have adequately addressed each point, Foxx said they will evaluate their submissions individually.
“This is a change of culture for us, because typically we would say a car has to meet X standard a certain way, and we recognize there will be different types of innovation that will come to us,” he told reporters in a preview of the guidance.
DOT and NHTSA will review the performance metrics annually and update them as needed.
DOT plans to expedite procedures around existing regulatory tools — such as letters of interpretation and exemptions — that the agency hopes will allow it to nimbly respond to innovations. Regulators reiterated their existing recall and enforcement authority applies to defects that could crop up in self-driving vehicles.
But the department also has a wishlist of new powers and resources it would like, some of which Foxx said would require congressional action. These items include mandating reporting of autonomous vehicle testing, deployment and performance, as well as giving regulators the power to inspect and approve new technologies before they reach consumers — which would be a major change from NHTSA’s traditional self-certification approach.
Regulators are looking at what information should be recorded and how data can be shared throughout the industry so that all manufacturers can learn from each other, NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind said.
Most of the guidance will be effective Tuesday, though DOT will solicit public comment for 60 days.
While most of the guidance focuses on what DOT terms “highly automated vehicles,” or those that can fully take over driving in some situations, portions of it — including a unique safety assessment protocol — apply to some of the driver-assistance automations that exist in vehicles today.
NHTSA will release a final enforcement guidance bulletin alongside the policy update Tuesday to clarify that semi-autonomous technologies could be subject to recall if they don’t “adequately account for” the chance that an inattentive driver might not take control of the vehicle when necessary.
NHTSA launched a preliminary inquiry into Tesla’s semi-autonomous Autopilot technology in June after a driver using the software crashed into a tractor-trailer and died.