Date:September 13, 2017
Just in time for #BBKInnovation Week: A revised version of the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy was released by the Department of Transportation through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, and the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee held a hearing on automated commercial vehicles.
Senate Hearing: Law Enforcement and Connected Vehicles
Needless to say, the conversation around regulations for automated vehicles is in the fast lane, especially with the recent passage of the “SELF DRIVE Act” by the House of Representatives. During the Senate hearing, it was important to see law enforcement discussing its role in ensuring the safety of automated vehicles; however, local governments and transit agencies continue to be missing from the witness table in hearings that are taking place in both the House and Senate.
Further, the important and often understated discussion going on at the Federal Communications Commission around spectrum needs for Dedicated Short Range Communications for connected vehicles was also raised during the Senate hearing. Without ensuring automated vehicles are also connected, there is a danger that the potential congestion-relieving and environmental benefits of automated vehicles will not be fully realized.
NHTSA Driving Systems 2.0: Hints of Collaboration, But a Missed Opportunity for Safety
The new NHTSA guidance makes it clear that it replaces the previous version released in September 2016 and reaffirms that it is only guidance and not mandatory. To that note, the document also dissuades states and local governments from codifying the guidelines into law. The note around “collaboration” in the Automated Driving Systems 2.0 guidelines, especially with express reference to “local governments,” is refreshing to see. Local governments play an important role not only around public safety, but are key in promoting consumer education and training, which is emphasized in the new guidance and is a stated priority for Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
On the other hand, expressly stating that NHTSA has no enforcement authority over safety assessments related to the deployment of automated vehicles seems troubling, and is a missed opportunity for NHTSA to take a leadership role around vehicle safety for automated vehicles. Without minimum federal standards for automated vehicles, which can also be “tech neutral,” states and local governments will continue to have uncertainty around how to make sure their citizens and roadways are protected. Such safety concerns are heightened with privacy and cybersecurity issues, especially in consideration of the recent Equifax data breach.
There is an ongoing 60-day public comment period.
The Road Ahead and Anticipated Senate Automated Vehicles Bill
As the Senate works on its legislation around automated vehicles, expected to be finalized by the end of the month, important issues around preemption, inclusion of automated commercial trucks, law enforcement, consumer education and cybersecurity are all being considered.
To achieve the “collaboration” referenced in Automated Driving Systems 2.0, it would be nice to see a tapping of the breaks on the preemption language in the SELF DRIVE Act. There should also be more focus on ensuring NHTSA has the resources it needs to ensure the safety of emerging technologies, and funding for pilot projects like the Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds, so that laws and regulations can evolve with real-world testing. Otherwise, there is a danger of prescribing ourselves out of the many transformative benefits that automated vehicles offer.