US regulatory agency releases V2.0 guidelines for automated driving systems

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has released an updated set of guidelines for the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles, nearly a year after releasing its first guidance. The update reflects feedback from automakers and other stakeholders, and the guidelines are more supportive of rapid testing and deployment.

IHS Markit perspective

  • Significance: The secretary of the US Department of Transportation (DOT), which oversees safety regulator the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, has released a second set of guidelines for autonomous vehicle development, called Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety.
  • Implications: The update was released on 12 September, almost a year after the first guidance was issued. The revised guidelines are shorter and more focused than the previous guidance, which they replace, and the DOT says they offer a more flexible approach to advancing innovation in automated vehicle safety technologies.
  • Outlook: The NHTSA's updated guidance incorporates feedback 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 agency specifically revised the voluntary guidelines for automakers, as well as updating recommended best practices for state legislation.

The US Department of Transportation (DOT)'s vehicle safety division, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), issued on 12 September updated guidelines on the development and testing of self-driving vehicle technology. In a press release, US Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said, "The new Guidance supports further development of this important new technology, which has the potential to change the way we travel and how we deliver goods and services. The safe deployment of automated vehicle technologies means we can look forward to a future with fewer traffic fatalities and increased mobility for all Americans." The new guidelines, entitled Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety, replace the previous guidance and include key changes to sections covering the voluntary compliance guidelines for automakers and best practices for US state governments ‒ encouraging US states to work with the federal guidelines rather than to impose more strict policies.

Voluntary guidance for ADS

The first set of guidelines issued by the DOT and the NHTSA, the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, focused on what the safety agency then called highly automated vehicles (HAVs). The updated guidance focuses on the enabling technology rather than the vehicle. Version 1.0 of the guidelines demanded that entities testing HAVs provide documentation of their efforts toward ensuring the systems addressed safety concerns in 15 areas. The 2017 updates are more supportive of emerging technology and less restrictive, though safety is still the primary concern. The NHTSA writes, "The sole purpose of this Guidance is to support the industry as it develops best practices in the design, development, testing, and deployment of automated vehicle technologies." The updated language focuses on the automated driving systems themselves, rather than the vehicle to which the system is applied.

The 2017 guidelines also set out recommendations for a voluntary safety self-assessment, which the NHTSA strongly advises should be developed but does not require or threaten to require it. The 2016 policy demanded that entities testing HAVs submit a safety self-assessment covering 15 safety issues, and suggested that the voluntary element would become mandatory over time. The 2017 policy is less stringent. The NHTSA continues to request documentation regarding safety efforts, though on 12 issues rather than 15, and the emphasis is on the voluntary nature of the guidelines. The NHTSA writes, "Entities engaged in ADS testing and deployment may demonstrate how they address - via industry best practices, their own best practices, or other appropriate methods - the safety elements contained in the Voluntary Guidance by publishing a Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment… Entities are not required to submit a Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment, nor is there any mechanism to compel entities to do so. While these assessments are encouraged prior to testing and deployment, NHTSA does not require that entities provide submissions nor are they required to delay testing or deployment. Assessments are not subject to Federal approval." The NHTSA also now recommends that entities ensure the Voluntary Safety Self-Assessments do not contain any confidential business information, as the agency does expect that these documents will be made public.

The updated voluntary guidance focuses on the enabling technology rather than the vehicle, and targets "Automated Driving Systems (ADSs - SAE Automation Levels 3 through 5 - Conditional, High and Full Automation systems)", rather than HAVs. The NHTSA places greater emphasis on the non-regulatory approach to testing and safe deployment of ADS. As before, the new guidelines apply to anyone testing or deploying ADS. The NHTSA states, "This includes traditional vehicle manufacturers as well as other entities involved with manufacturing, designing, supplying, testing, selling, operating, or deploying ADSs, including equipment designers and suppliers; entities that outfit any vehicle with automated capabilities or equipment for testing, for commercial sale, and/or for use on public roadways; transit companies; automated fleet operators; "driverless" taxi companies; and any other individual or entity that offers services utilizing ADS technology."

The 2017 policy document calls the section dealing with vehicle technology "Section 1: Voluntary Guidance for Automated Driving Systems (Voluntary Guidance)", and it includes carryover areas of concern, with language updated to reflect industry advances. The 2016 guidelines, as noted, were more focused on vehicles than systems and outlined best practices for the "safe pre-deployment design, development and testing of HAVs prior to commercial sale or operation on public roads". The DOT defined HAVs as vehicles meeting SAE Levels 3 to 5, with automated systems that are responsible for monitoring the driving environment.

With the 2017 guidance, the NHTSA addresses 12 priority safety design elements for consideration. These include system safety, operational design domain (ODD), object and event detection and response (ODED), fallback (minimal risk condition), validation methods, human machine interface, vehicle cyber-security, crashworthiness, post-crash ADS behaviour, data recording, consumer education and training, and federal, state and local laws. The voluntary guidance provides a flexible framework, noting, "As automated driving technologies evolve at a rapid pace, no single standard exists by which an entity's methods of considering a safety design element can be measured. Each entity is free to be creative and innovative when developing the best method for its system to appropriately mitigate the safety risks associated with their approach." The voluntary guidance applies to all vehicles under the NHTSA's jurisdiction, including low-speed vehicles, motorcycles, passenger vehicles, medium-duty vehicles and heavy-duty commercial motor vehicles (large trucks and buses). The NHTSA also recommends that anyone engaged in testing and deployment to publicly disclose the Voluntary Safety Self-Assessments.

Guidance for states
Relative to federal and state roles, version 2.0 of the guidelines updates Section 2: Technical Assistance to States, Best Practices for Legislatures Regarding Automated Driving Systems (Best Practices). The NHTSA writes, "The section clarifies and delineates Federal and State roles in the regulation of ADSs. NHTSA remains responsible for regulating the safety design and performance aspects of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment; States continue to be responsible for regulating the human driver and vehicle operations." The fundamental delineation of roles is maintained, but the updated guidance makes a stronger statement advising states on legislation relative to testing.

Regarding the federal versus state discussion, the NHTSA states: "NHTSA strongly encourages States not to codify this Voluntary Guidance (that is, incorporate it into State statutes) as a legal requirement for any phases of development, testing, or deployment of ADSs. Allowing NHTSA alone to regulate the safety design and performance aspects of ADS technology will help avoid conflicting Federal and State laws and regulations that could impede deployment… While technology is evolving and new State legislative language is still being drafted and reviewed, States can proactively evaluate current laws and regulations so as not to unintentionally create barriers to ADS operation, such as a requirement that a driver have at least one hand on the steering wheel at all times." The NHTSA encourages states to strive for "sufficient consistency" of laws and policies, rather than a need for identical laws and policies.

The 2017 update contains more forceful language than previously regarding potential state laws impeding progress. The 2017 update also stops short of suggesting federal consequences for any state legislation that is more restrictive than the federal voluntary guidelines. The NHTSA advises states to provide a technology-neutral environment; provide licensing and registration procedures; provide reporting and communications methods for public safety officials; and review traffic laws and regulations that may serve as barriers to operation of ADS.

Outlook and implications
The NHTSA's updated guidelines incorporate feedback 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 agency specifically revised the voluntary guidelines for automakers as well as updating recommended best practices for state legislation.

The updated guidelines reflect feedback from public comments and Congressional hearings. The updates continue to apply to any company testing automated driving technology, with a more simplified set of safety self-assessment concerns, as well as reflecting the most current industry developments. Along with more streamlined expectations for the voluntary safety self-assessments, the updated guidelines clarify that entities do not have to wait for the NHTSA to review their self-assessment before testing can be begun.

About this article

The above article is from AutoIntelligence Daily by IHS Markit. AutoIntelligence Daily provides same-day analysis of automotive news, events and trends.​​​​​​ Get a free trial.


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