DoT Announces 'Voluntary' Self-Driving Vehicle Safety Guidelines

The industry comments will likely shape the upcoming mandatory regulations.
By Ronald E. Quirk
Sep 25, 2017

Hot on the heels of the U.S. House of Representatives' unanimous passage of the SELF-DRIVE Act, intended to speed development of self-driving vehicles—those equipped with automated driving systems (ADSs)—the U.S. Department of Transportation (DoT) has released its Automated Driving Systems: A Vision for Safety publication, containing numerous safety guidelines and procedures applicable to all entities involved in designing and marketing ADSs.

These entities include vehicle manufacturers, Internet of Things (IoT) equipment suppliers, software developers and testing firms. The publication also proposes limited state regulatory roles for ADS vehicles, as well as suggested best practices for state legislators and highway safety officials.

Are the Guidelines Really Voluntary?
While DoT states that Vision for Safety offers a "non-regulatory" approach to ADS safety matters and avers that its guidelines are voluntary, reading this document in conjunction with the SELF-DRIVE Act strongly indicates that many of the Vision for Safety practices will soon become mandatory ADS regulations, unless stakeholders speak up.

As discussed in a previous article by Marashlian & Donahue, PLLC, the SELF-DRIVE Act requires the DoT to promulgate mandatory ADS safety rules and submit a Safety Priority Plan to Congress less than two years after the Act's passage. DoT has requested comments on all aspects of Vision for Safety, with an eye toward updating same. Because Vision for Safety contains a policy framework resulting from years of research and public input, it is almost certain that the DoT will apply the guidelines and procedures from the updated document in its promulgating its mandatory ADS rules and Safety Priority Plan.

Commenters Will Be the Early Persuaders in Devising ADS Regulations
With ADS legislation progressing rapidly through Congress, this may be the last chance for ADS stakeholders to have their voices heard before a binding statute is in place and rulemaking proceedings begin. This article presents a high-level overview of Vision for Safety, but, as is usually the case, the devil is in the details. Accordingly, it is vital that ADS stakeholders study Vision for Safety to determine whether the guidelines therein help or hurt their businesses. As Vision for Safety's guidelines are rather broad, there is a lot of room for commenters to provide more granular and persuasive information for the DoT to consider when it promulgates its final rules. Comments are due by Nov. 14, 2017.

SAE International Automation Levels
The threshold issue regarding the safety guidelines in Vision for Safety is at what level—according to the SAE International Standard (SAE)—a given ADS will perform. The DoT has adopted SAE, and has determined that Vision for Safety will focus on ADS vehicles that incorporate the SAE Levels 3-5.

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