DoT Announces 'Voluntary' Self-Driving Vehicle Safety Guidelines

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

Post-Crash ADS Behavior
The DoT suggests that entities engaged in testing or deployment of ADS vehicles should employ methods of returning those vehicles to a safe state immediately after a crash. This would include shutting down the fuel pump, removing motive power, moving the vehicle to a safe location off the road and disengaging electrical power. Methods for communicating relevant information to operations centers should also be implemented.

Data Recording
The collection of information from crashes is vital to improving the safety of ADS vehicles. Accordingly, the DoT requests that entities engaged in testing or deployment of ADS should establish a documented process for testing, validating and collecting data related to malfunctions, degradations or failures that can be used to determine the cause of any crash. This data should be stored, maintained and readily available for retrieval, with applicable privacy protections built in. Entities should have the technical and legal capability to share with government authorities the relevant information necessary for crash reconstruction.

Consumer Education and Testing
The DoT stresses the importance of education and training for safe deployment of ADS vehicles. Accordingly, all pertinent entities (manufacturers and testers) should develop, document and maintain employee, dealer, distributor and consumer education and training programs to address the anticipated differences between the operation of ADS vehicles and conventional vehicles. Understanding and proper used of ADS technology should be the main focus of the education and training programs. ADS dealers and distributors should implement an on-road experience demonstrating ADS operations and HMI functions prior to sales to consumers.

Federal, State and Local Laws
ADS designers are encouraged to document how they intend to account for all applicable federal, state and local laws. ADS vehicle development should account for all governing traffic laws when operating in automated mode. The DoT suggests that all ADSs should have the capability to handle "normal" situations that may technically violate traffic laws, such as having to cross a double-line, safely pass a disabled vehicle, driving on the shoulder, etc. ADSs should also have the capability to adapt to changes in traffic laws and regulations.

Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment
The DoT proposes to allow entities involved in testing and deployment of ADSs to demonstrate compliance with the Vision for Safety guidelines by publishing a Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment. This would demonstrate to the proper authorities and consumers that the entity is considering the safety aspects of ADSs, is communicating and collaborating with the DoT, is encouraging safety norms for ADSs and is building public trust through transparent testing and deployment of ADS.

Federal and State Roles in ADS Regulation
Vision for Safety includes a section on proposed federal and state regulatory roles, as well as suggested practices for state legislatures and safety officials to encourage ADS deployment. This section proposes a minor role for the states—limited to licensing, insurance and various traffic-related administrative functions. This is probably due to the federal preemption section in the SELF-DRIVE Act. The DoT clearly proposes secondary roles for the states.

Stay Aware and Informed
Vision for Safety is but one element of the Federal Government's rapid ADS implementation process. The SELF-DRIVE Act has been passed, and the U.S. Senate is working on a companion bill. Lawmakers are holding hearings almost every week, exploring ways to speed up the deployment of self-driving vehicles as the automotive industry and safety advocates clamor for action at the federal level.

As legislation progresses, federal agencies will commence proceedings that will result in the nuts-and-bolts regulation of ADS vehicles. The final rules will have winners and losers in the ADS industry. It is important to remain aware of these proceedings and have your voice heard on matters important to your business. To state the obvious, the ADS industry and its regulations are still in the nascent stages. Now is the time for you to have your say, to ensure that the regulatory environment is favorable to your business.

For further information concerning the self-driving vehicle regulatory matters, please contact Marashlian & Donahue PLLC's managing partner, Jonathan S. Marashlian, at (703) 714 1313 or jsm@commlawgroup.com; or IoT attorney Ronald E. Quirk, Jr., at (703) 714-1305 or req@commlawgroup.com.

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