In New Guidelines, NHTSA Encourages Self-Driving Technology Development

Self-driving cars have been on the road for a while, now, particularly in certain locations like Pittsburgh. City residents here have been sharing the road with Uber’s experimental self-driving vehicles since September 2016, catching a glimpse of the future while the company learns more about what they need to do to make the technology safer for a more widespread application.

Federal highway safety officials released their first set of safety guidelines last year, and on September 12, 2017, released the updated federal guidelines for automated driving systems (ADS). Called “A Vision for Safety 2.0,” the document expresses support for further development of the technology, and encourages “best practices and prioritizes safety.”

Guidelines Encourage All Companies to Design Safety Elements

Though the guidelines aren’t mandatory, they do give technology companies and state governments guidelines to follow to help expand the use of ADS across the country. “The future of this new technology is so full of promise,” said U.S. Department of Transportation secretary Elaine L. Chao in an introductory message. “It’s a future where vehicles increasingly help drivers avoid crashes… And especially important, it’s a future where highway fatalities and injuries are significantly reduced.”

She goes on to note that the major factor in 94 percent of all fatal automobile crashes is human error, and concludes that ADS’s thus “have the potential to significantly reduce highway fatalities….” Based on the idea that these systems will save lives, the guidelines offer a non-regulatory approach to automated vehicle technology safety.

The hope is that technology companies will all work toward the same safety goals, with 12 priority safety design elements incorporated into their systems. These include vehicle cybersecurity, crashworthiness, and consumer education and training. The guidelines also encourage technology companies to work together and make public their various approaches to achieving safety so that the information can be shared.

Guidelines Clarify Federal and State Roles in Self-Driving Regulations

The new guidelines go further to clarify federal and state roles in the regulation of ADS’s. The NHTSA notes that while they remain responsible for regulating safety design and performance, states remain responsible for regulating human driver and vehicle operations.

One section entitled Best Practices for Legislatures provides guidance on elements states should consider incorporating in legislation. Another section offers a framework for the development of procedures and conditions for the safe operation of these systems on public roadways.

Both the Department of Transportation and the NHTSA are already planning for the next version of their guidelines, as they expect changes will be needed as the technology continues to advance. Every year, more than 30,000 Americans die in motor vehicle-related crashes. The NHTSA states that vehicle automation is already saving lives and preventing injuries.