USDOT and NHTSA Issue Federal Automated Vehicles Policy - Accelerating the Next Revolution in Roadway Safety
On September 20, 2016 the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a document to establish a foundation and framework upon which NHTSA will build future actions. The agencies believe self-driving cars raise more possibilities and more questions than perhaps any other transportation innovation under present discussion. Ninety-four percent of crashes can be tied to a human choice or error. USDOT believes that an important promise of highly automated vehicles (HAVs) is to address and mitigate that overwhelming majority of crashes. Besides safety, there is potential to transform personal mobility, open doors to people with restricted mobility options, provide communities with new transportation options, potentially save energy and reduce air pollution through efficiencies and support of vehicle electrification. They believe that the rapid evolution of technology use will continue and as this technology matures, many of the "unknowns" will evolve to form a framework of action items. This early "guidance" document is based on research and discussions with industry leaders, experts in the field, state governments, safety advocates and the general public. Along with this initial Policy, NHTSA is issuing a Request for Comment (RFC) on the Policy, which is available at www.nhtsa.gov/av, or in the docket for this Policy, NHTSA-2016-0090. That RFC will be open for sixty days. By this document and significant public outreach NHTSA is expecting much public input that will be used to update this Policy. They anticipate that the next update will be in a year or less and then again at roughly annual intervals.
This Policy is issued as NHTSA "guidance" rather than rulemaking in order to speed the delivery of an initial regulatory framework and best practices to guide manufacturers and other entities in the safe design, development, testing, and deployment of HAVs. This document divides the task of facilitating the safe introduction and deployment of HAVs into four sections:
- Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles - outlines best practices for the safe pre-deployment design, development and testing of HAVs prior to commercial sale or operation on public roads.
- Model State Policy - confirms that States retain their traditional responsibilities for vehicle licensing and registration, traffic laws and enforcement, and motor vehicle insurance and liability regimes. The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) and the USDOT share an objective of ensuring the establishment of a consistent national framework rather than a patchwork of incompatible laws.
- NHTSA's Current Regulatory Tools - letters of interpretation, exemptions from existing standards, rulemaking to amend existing standards or create new standards and enforcement authority to address defects that pose an unreasonable risk to safety.
- New Tools and Authorities - pre-market safety assurance, pre-market approval authority, cease-and-desist authority, expanded exemption authority for HAVs, post-sale authority to regulate software changes, variable test procedures to ensure behavioral competence and avoid the gaming of tests, functional and system safety, regular reviews for making NHTSA testing protocols iterative and forward-looking, additional recordkeeping/reporting, enhanced data collection tools, network of experts and special hiring tools.
Due to multiple definitions for various levels of automation there is a need for standardization to aid clarity and consistency. This Policy adopts the SAE International (SAE) definitions for levels of automation (SAE J3016). Throughout this Policy the term HAV represents SAE Levels 3-5 vehicles with automated systems that are responsible for monitoring the driving environment. An automated vehicle system is a combination of hardware and software (remote and on-board) that performs a driving function with or without a human actively monitoring the driving environment. A vehicle has a separate automated vehicle system for each Operational Design Domain (ODD) such that a SAE Level 2, 3 or 4 vehicle could have one or multiple systems (one for each ODD - e.g., freeway driving, self-parking, geofenced urban driving). SAE Level 5 vehicles have a single automated vehicle system that performs under all conditions.
Tests should be developed and conducted that can evaluate vehicle systems through a combination of simulation, test track or roadways experience. The tests will validate that the HAV system can operate safely with respect to the defined ODD and have the capability to fall back to a minimal risk condition when needed. The fall back minimal risk condition portion of the framework is also specific to each HAV system. Defining, testing, and validating a fall back minimal risk condition ensures that the vehicle can be put in a minimal risk condition in cases of HAV system failure or a failure in a human driver's response when transitioning from automated to manual control.
NHTSA will request that manufacturers and other entities voluntarily provide reports regarding how the "guidance" has been followed. This reporting process may be refined and made mandatory through future rulemaking. This Safety Assessment would cover the following areas: data recording and sharing, privacy, system safety, vehicle cybersecurity, human machine interface, crashworthiness, consumer education and training, registration and certification, post-crash behavior, federal, state and local laws, ethical considerations, operational design domain, object and event detection and response, fall back minimal risk conditions and validation methods. This provision will not take effect until after NHTSA completes the process required by the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), any resulting adjustments have been made and NHTSA has published a notification in the Federal Register. For HAV systems already being tested and deployed, NHTSA expects that manufacturers and other entities will provide a Safety Assessment within four months after the completion of the PRA process.
In the coming months, the Agency anticipates taking the following steps to evolve the "guidance" as technology, experience, and knowledge progresses: obtain public input, conduct public workshop(s), obtain expert reviews, complete PRA process for Safety Assessment, publish Safety Assessment Template, pursue anonymous data sharing, develop work plan for priority safety areas, provide continual coordination, develop automated vehicle classification, gather data, mandate Safety Assessment and HAV registration and consider updates to FMVSS.
Most of this Policy is effective on the date of its publication. However, as indicated above, certain elements involving data and information collection will be effective upon the completion of a PRA review and process. Those elements are the Safety Assessment for HAV manufacturers and other entities and the Safety Assessment for L2 Systems described in Section I, Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles. Therefore, if a vehicle is compliant within the existing FMVSS regulatory framework and maintains a conventional vehicle design, there is currently no specific federal legal barrier to an HAV being offered for sale. However, manufacturers and other entities designing new automated vehicle systems are subject to NHTSA's defects, recall and enforcement authority. DOT anticipates that manufacturers and other entities planning to test and deploy HAVs will use this "guidance", industry standards and best practices to ensure that their systems will be reasonably safe under real-world conditions.