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US DOT releases new guidelines for automated driving systems

11 October 2018 Stephanie Brinley, MBA

IHS Markit perspective

  • Implications: The US Department of Transportation (DOT), which oversees regulatory agency the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has released a third set of guidelines on autonomous vehicle development, called 'Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0'. The latest version of the guidelines expands the scope of earlier guidance but does not replace the guidance on testing and development laid out in the 2017, 'Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety'.
  • Outlook: The new document is comprehensive in addressing all areas in which the DOT agencies have authority. Most significant for autonomous vehicle development is that the agencies overseeing light, medium and heavy commercial vehicles will no longer assume, from a regulatory standpoint, that all autonomous vehicles will have a human driver. In addition, the DOT has reiterated a preference for voluntary compliance with guidance over prescribed regulations and is looking for methods to speed up the process of rulemaking, including potentially granting exemptions. What remains unchanged is the agency's priority of public safety.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT) issued updated guidelines on autonomous vehicles and automated driving systems (ADS) on 4 October. The latest guidance document is called 'Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0', or 'AV 3.0'. The second set of guidelines, version (V) 2.0, was released in September 2017 and replaced the first set issued in September 2016. Now, this third set of guidelines addresses further integration issues not covered by the prior releases. The latest guidance does not supersede the second set of guidelines, but supplements V2.0 by covering integration and system issues. The second set of guidelines, regarding testing procedures, remains in place. The DOT statement said, "Automation technologies are new and rapidly evolving. The right approach to achieving safety improvements begins with a focus on removing unnecessary barriers and issuing voluntary guidance, rather than regulations that could stifle innovation."

DOT automation principles and implementation strategies

With AV 3.0, the DOT has clarified the basic principles by which it will evaluate future decisions, regulations, and strategies on autonomous vehicles. The guidance sets the stage for understanding and learning to anticipate possible DOT actions in the future. The agency says it will prioritise safety, balancing potential for safety improvements with knowledge that autonomous driving systems (ADS) will introduce new safety risks. Rather than prescribing technology solutions, the agency expects to adopted flexible, technology-neutral policies. Among the most important elements, the DOT says it will modernise the regulations. "As a starting point and going forward, the Department will interpret and, consistent with all applicable notice and comment requirements, adapt the definitions of 'driver' and 'operator' to recognize that such terms do not refer exclusively to a human, but may in fact include an automated system," the document reads. As well as modernising or eliminating outdated regulations, the department will develop standards that are flexible and adaptable over time. As a federal agency, the DOT will encourage consistent regulatory framework and operational environment across the country. Another principle, says the DOT, will be to support the pace of development and that it "will provide guidance, best practices, pilot programs, and other assistance to help our partners plan and make the investments needed for a dynamic and flexible automated future. The Department also will prepare for complementary technologies that enhance the benefits of automation, such as communications between vehicles and the surrounding environment, but will not assume universal implementation of any particular approach." This suggests that the DOT may finally address an existing proposal related to vehicle-to-vehicle communication. Finally, the DOT indicates that there will be continued support for Americans to drive their own vehicles, as well as support for automation technologies that enable mobility for people with disabilities and older citizens.

The DOT also sets out its five strategies for implementation. These are engaging stakeholders and the public; providing best practices and policy considerations to support stakeholders; support voluntary technical standards; conduct targeted research; and modernise regulations.
The DOT has also outlined a conceptual framework for safety risk management during the stages of autonomous vehicle development, with the expectation that there will be a collaborative approach that includes DOT engagement throughout the process. The DOT expects development and early-stage road testing to include understanding safety risks and implementing mitigation strategies. The next stage is expanded ADS road testing to build confidence in the technology within the intended operational environment. At this stage, the DOT expects developers to observe system failures, receive safety driver feedback, and introduce fail-safe systems. The final stage is limited to full ADS deployment, including moving towards commercialisation and engaging with the public. At this point, the DOT sees the stage as including validating underlying safety assumptions, gathering user and public feedback, and identifying fine-tuning opportunities.

AV 3.0 addresses ADS issues in all DOT agencies

Central to AV 3.0 is that the DOT has taken a broader approach with the guidance than previously, addressing issues across passenger vehicles, commercial vehicles, on-road transit, and the roadways. The document includes input and some recommended actions for all transportation agencies under the DOT. These include the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), Federal Transit Administration (FTA), Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The most significant in terms of development of ADS-equipped vehicles are at the NHTSA and the FMCSA.

Under AV 3.0, the NHTSA plans to issue proposed rules that include changes to certain safety standards to accommodate automated vehicle technologies and to address exceptions to certain standards, which would be relevant only when human drivers are present in ADS vehicles. The most obvious involve the steering wheel and pedals, but other Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) requirements on which an ADS-equipped vehicle might have an exemption include rules on forward visibility and seat placement. In addition, the agency will consider a new process of formulating FMVSS requirements. The current approach is, the DOT writes, "incompatible" with the pace of innovation in automated vehicle technologies; future standards may be performance-based and allow for different test procedures, including simulations. The document says, "Future motor vehicle safety standards will need to be more flexible and responsive, technology-neutral, and performance-oriented to accommodate rapid technological innovation." Changing to performance-based standards may be possible because federal law does not require that the NHTSA's standards rely on physical testing, only that testing must be objective, repeatable, and measurable. The NHTSA will seek public comment on its proposed streamlined and modernised procedures for processing and deciding exemption petitions for ADS-equipped vehicles without human-driver controls, including removing "unnecessary delays in seeing public comment" as part of the exemption process, as well as clarifying and updating the type of information needed to support such petitions.

The FMCSA has responsibility for regulating commercial motor carriers operating in interstate commerce, including qualifications of drivers and the safe operations of the vehicles. The NHTSA retains authority over commercial motor vehicle (CMV) standards through FMVSS, with collaboration and consultation with FMCSA; this will continue for ADS-equipped CMV. The FMCSA retains authority over safety and proper operating conditions of the vehicle, which includes regulations relating to the driver, even if driving decisions are made by an ADS. The agency is planning an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to identify regulatory gaps in inspection, repair, and maintenance of ADS in the commercial environment. As with the NHTSA, the FMCSA also has a set of safety regulations, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSR). With AV 3.0, FMCSRs that apply to human-specific behaviour would not apply to ADS-operated vehicles; for example, drug testing or hours-of-service regulations. FMCSRs that would still apply to an ADS-equipped vehicle include inspection, repair, and maintenance issues. As is true of the changes relative to the NHTSA, perhaps the most important update in guidance is when it states "the Department's policy is that going forward FMCSA regulations will no longer assume that the CMV driver is always a human or that a human is necessarily present onboard a commercial vehicle during its operation". The FMCSA is planning to provide more detailed guidance regarding use of ADS in commercial vehicles, in conjunction with the PHMSA. Guidance will include requirements that personnel understand the capabilities and limitations of a CMV equipped with driver assist or ADS, including ODD limitations, and that motor carriers ensure the system is functioning properly before activating the systems; in addition, a training programme for fleet managers and maintenance personnel is necessary. The agencies are also looking at requirements covering equipment maintenance, information exchange, and safety inspections.

AV 3.0 states that the FHWA will update its latest 'Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices' (MUTD), which is from 2009, to address new connected and automated vehicles, including sensor and machine vision system capabilities for reading and interpreting traffic control devices. The FHWA is researching the efficiency and safety benefits of augmenting autonomous vehicle capabilities with connected vehicle technologies for "cooperative automation". This research includes speed harmonisation to reduce bottlenecks, co-operative lane-changing and -merging functions to mitigate traffic disruptions, and co-ordination of "signalized intersection approach and departure" to enable automated vehicles to enter and exit intersections. The Federal Railroad Administration is researching use of automated and connected vehicles to improve safety at highway-rail crossings (level crossings). An effort to improve goods movement includes the the Maritime Administration (MARAD) and the FCMSA studying the use of automated truck queueing to resolve truck staging, access and parking issues at ports. The Federal Transit Administration, which oversees the bus system, has published research into automating bus transit.

Outlook and implications

The 80-page V3.0 guidance document is comprehensive in addressing all the areas in which the US Department of Transportation's agencies have authority. Most significant for autonomous vehicle development is that the agencies overseeing light vehicles and medium and heavy commercial vehicles will no longer assume, from a regulatory standpoint, that all vehicles will have a human driver. In addition, the DOT has reiterated a preference for voluntary compliance over prescribed regulations and is looking for methods to speed up the process of rulemaking, including potentially granting exemptions to some rules. What remains unchanged is the agency's priority of public safety.

Not unlike the second set of guidelines, the updated policies apply some of the feedback and input the agency received from various stakeholders, to create a more robust and thoughtful set of guidelines, as well as reflecting the current US presidential administration's efforts to reduce rather than increase federal oversight of business. The document has also incorporated several conclusions reached regarding co-ordination of federal and state oversight and responsibility, as well as addressing cyber-security efforts. The full document is available on the DOT's website. Relative to definitions of autonomous driving levels, AV 3.0 continues to leverage the SAE levels on self-driving vehicles.

A specific timeline is not given for when new rulemaking proposals will be announced, but AV 3.0 lays out a broad scope and takes a thoughtful approach to ensuring regulations do not hinder autonomous vehicle development. The change to both the NHTSA and the FMCSA recognising that a vehicle may not be designed to be driven by a human in terms of setting standards is critical for paving the way to changes in standards and exemptions. Another example of modernising rulemaking on a potential new vehicle class is that the NHTSA recognises that existing standards assume a vehicle may be driven anywhere, but that the operational design domain (ODD) for a particular ADS is likely to be limited in area and unique to the system and, therefore, that assumptions and evaluations may need to change. The NHTSA notes that these may lend themselves to performance-based testing measures.

Posted 11 October 2018 by Stephanie Brinley, Principal Automotive Analyst, IHS Markit

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