NHTSA Seeks Feedback on Self-Driving Car Regulatory Framework

Federal regulators are calling for public comments and feedback on new rules for evaluating the safety of self-driving cars, which will also not impede innovation of new technology.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a statement last week, indicating that advance notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) was submitted to the Federal Register on November 19. The agency is now seeking feedback on the approaches outlined.

As a number of auto-makers and technology companies continue to work on self-driving systems for cars, the regulators are seeking to develop a framework of principals that will focus on safety, security and privacy, while ensuring sufficient flexibility to enable further innovation and developments in the future.

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Automated driving systems (ADS) involve hardware and software that are capable of fully driving a vehicle on a sustained basis without a human driver. The technology is intended to operate the car in all circumstances, and not just for short periods of time or in certain circumstances.

Currently, no vehicles equipped with fully automated driving systems are available for sale in the United States, and the agency indicates that such systems are likely still years away. However, it is important for the regulators to have a defined system in place for ensure the safety of vehicles with self-driving technology before they are sold to the public.

The push for fully autonomous vehicles has topped the NHTSA’s priority list, with the hopes that the technology will make roadways safer. However, some researchers indicate that the potential benefits may be overblown, with a recent study finding that self-driving cars may only prevent about one-third of all accidents.

The agency identified several key components that are necessary for regulation of self-driving vehicles, so that officials can fully assess self-driving system competence and ensure safety to passengers.

A poll conducted in last year found that many Americans do not trust self-driving vehicles and would not pay for the fully autonomous feature. With that in mind, the goal of the ADS framework is a focus on safety for drivers. Overall, the regulation framework would address public concerns about safety, security, and privacy without hampering further development of ADS vehicles in the future.

“ADS technologies are different from more conventional automotive equipment, and it is necessary and appropriate to consider how ADS standards can and should be articulated,” added NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens. “The framework of principles would objectively define, assess and manage the safety of ADS, while ensuring the flexibility to enable further innovation.”

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