DoT Announces 'Voluntary' Self-Driving Vehicle Safety Guidelines

The industry comments will likely shape the upcoming mandatory regulations.
By Ronald E. Quirk

SAE's Six Levels of Driving Automation
• Level 0–No Automation: The operator performs all driving tasks.

• Level 1–Driver Assistance: The vehicle can handle some steering, acceleration and braking functions, but the operator must be ready to take over those functions if called upon by the vehicle.

• Level 2–Partial Automation: The vehicle handles steering, acceleration and braking, but immediately lets the operator take over if he or she detects events to which the vehicle is not responding. In the first three SAE levels, the operator is responsible for monitoring the surroundings, traffic, weather and road conditions.

• Level 3–Conditional Automation: The vehicle monitors surroundings and controls all steering, acceleration and braking in certain "normal" environments, such as highways. But the operator must be ready to intervene if the vehicle requests it.

• Level 4–High Automation: The vehicle handles steering, acceleration and braking, as well as monitoring the surroundings in most types of environments; exceptions include extreme conditions, such as severe weather. The operator switches on the automatic driving only when it is notified and it is safe to do so.

• Level 5–Full Automation: The operator only has to set the destination and start the vehicle, which then handles all other tasks. The vehicle can drive to any legal destination and make its own decisions on the way. The operator may have the option to control the vehicle.

Priority Safety Design Elements for ADS Suppliers
At the crux of Vision for Safety are 12 "Priority Safety Design Elements" that businesses should follow when designing and implementing best practices for the testing and safe deployment of ADSs.

System Safety
The DoT recommends that designers develop a systems-engineering design and validation process—based on industry standards—to ensure their ADSs are free of unreasonable safety risks. This process must include a hazard analysis and safety risk assessment. Software testing should also be included, with a well-documented software-development and change-management process. Safety considerations include design architecture, sensor and actuator functions, communication failure, potential software errors, potential collisions and violations of traffic laws. Entities should document their entire system safety processes and changes thereto, so that all pertinent data may be traceable and transparent for customers and pertinent governmental entities.

Operational Design Domain
The DoT encourages ADS manufacturers to define and document an Operational Design Domain (ODD) for each ADS vehicle tested or deployed on U.S. roads and highways. The ODD should describe the specific conditions under which a given ADS feature is intended to function. The minimum information the ODD should include to determine the ADS's capability limits is as follows:

• Roadway types on which the ADS is intended to operate safely
• Geographic areas (city, mountains, deserts, etc.)
• Speed range
• Environmental conditions (weather, day or night, fog, etc.)
• Other domain constraints

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