DOT updates guidance on autonomous vehicles

According to DOT, the new document “supports the safe development of automated vehicle technologies by providing new multi-modal safety guidance; reducing policy uncertainty and clarifying roles, and “outlining a process for working with U.S. DOT as technology evolves.”

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The Department of Transportation has expanded its voluntary guidance for the development of what it calls “automated vehicles.”

On Oct. 4 at DOT headquarters in Washington, DC, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao introduced the update, contained in an 80-pg document titled “Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0,” or “AV3.0” for short. The prior guidance, AV 2.0, was released last September.

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The safe integration of automated vehicle technology into our transportation system will increase productivity, facilitate freight movement and create new types of jobs,” Secretary Chao said.

She stressed that AV 3.0 was developed with “extensive” input from stakeholders so that voluntary guidance could be offered to a “range of industry sectors,” including technology developers, infrastructure owners and operators, commercial motor carriers, and state and local governments.

According to DOT, the new document “supports the safe development of automated vehicle technologies by providing new multi-modal safety guidance; reducing policy uncertainty and clarifying roles, and “outlining a process for working with U.S. DOT as technology evolves.”

DOT said the AV 3.0 guidance specifically updates its initiatives relating to autonomous vehicles by:

  • “Stating that DOT will interpret and, consistent with all applicable notice and comment requirements, adapt the definitions of ‘driver’ or ‘operator’ as appropriate to recognize that such terms do not refer exclusively to a human, but may include an automated system.”
  • Identifying and supporting development of automation-related voluntary standards developed through organizations and associations, “which can be an effective non-regulatory means to advance the integration of automation technologies.”
  • Affirming that DOT is “continuing its work to preserve the ability for transportation safety applications to function in the 5.9 GHz spectrum.”

The AV 3.0 document also reveals several upcoming rulemakings and other actions DOT plans to take, including having the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration initiate an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to address automated vehicles. That pre-rule will be focused on identifying “regulatory gaps, including in the areas of inspection, repair, and maintenance for ADS [automated driving systems].”

Also, DOT said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration will be requesting public comment on a proposal “to streamline and modernize the procedures it will follow when processing and deciding exemption petitions [concerning automated vehicle technologies].”

At this point, the new guidance is technically a draft document. The next step is for it to be published soon in the Federal Register, to allow for public review and comment.

During the rollout of the document at DOT, FMCSA Administrator Raymond Martinez remarked that the agency will keep on “engaging all [AV] stakeholders through outreach activities and meetings, with the shared goal of advancing both safety and transportation efficiency.

“FMCSA is working to facilitate automated driving systems in commercial vehicles by encouraging and supporting innovation that prioritizes safety and reduces roadway crashes,” he stated. Martinez noted that automated driving technologies is being developed around the world, stressing that FMCSA is “not operating in a vacuum. “Fully automated vehicles are not a vision of the distant future,” he added.

The American Trucking Associations reacted positively to the message of AV 3.0.  “This is a sound and substantive framework that rightly recognizes commercial vehicles are essential to any serious AV policy,” said ATA President and CEO Chris Spear. “In reaching out to a broad group of stakeholders, the Department should be commended for its thoughtful approach, which will enable an informed decision-making process around new and emerging technologies.”

He noted that the new guidance “ensures that technological progress will not outpace the formation of key safety policy – and will enable America to maintain our role as world leaders both in innovation and in developing this framework.

“We look forward to working with the Secretary and FMCSA Administrator Martinez as this initiative rolls forward,” Spear added, “and to having trucking’s voice as a vital contributor throughout this process.”

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