On October 4, the U.S. Department of Transportation published Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0 (“AV 3.0”), a policy vision statement that embraces automation as a critical tool to improve motor vehicle safety. AV 3.0 identifies several avenues to remove regulatory barriers to Autonomous Driving Systems (“ADS”), including potential changes to rules that may stand in the way of driverless vehicles. These changes are of interest to automotive manufacturers, parts and systems suppliers, and technology companies.

AV 3.0 “builds upon—but does not replace” DOT’s September 2017 publication Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety (“ADS 2.0”). ADS 2.0 provided voluntary guidance to industry regarding 12 “safety elements”—for example, crashworthiness, data recording, and consumer education—and encouraged companies to publish “Voluntary Safety Self-Assessments.” AV 3.0 reiterates the importance of these self-assessments, some of which have been submitted and published on NHTSA’s website.

AV 3.0 highlights a recent Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (“ANPRM”) by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) regarding a potential pilot program “for the safe on-road testing and deployment of vehicles with high and full driving automation.” Among other topics, this ANPRM requests input regarding regulatory relief that might be needed facilitate a pilot program. Comments are currently due on November 26, 2018.

AV 3.0 also previews several future agency actions that will promote a streamlined regulatory environment for autonomous vehicles. First, AV 3.0 announces that NHTSA “is developing” an ANPRM to change Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (“FMVSS”) that may not be relevant to driverless vehicles, such as requirements regarding steering wheels, pedals, and mirrors. This follows NHTSA’s January 2018 Request for Comment to “identify any regulatory barriers” to ADS-equipped vehicles.

Second, to streamline the process for companies seeking exemptions from FMVSS, “NHTSA intends to seek public comment on a proposal to streamline and modernize procedures the Agency will follow when processing and deciding exemption petitions.”

Third, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (“FMCSA”) “is finalizing an ANPRM to address ADS, particularly to identify regulatory gaps, including in the areas of inspection, repair, and maintenance for ADS.”

Finally, the Federal Highway Administration intends to update the 2009 edition of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, which sets standards for traffic signs and other road signals, to take automated systems into better consideration.

AV 3.0 does not disclose when any of these future agency actions will occur.

Reinforcing DOT’s openness to driverless vehicles, AV 3.0 announces that “FMCSA regulations will no longer assume that the [commercial motor vehicle] driver is always a human or that a human is necessarily present onboard a commercial vehicle during its operation.”

Consistent with its focus on regulatory streamlining, AV 3.0 states that DOT “no longer recognizes the designations of ten Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds,” pilot sites which had been selected through a competitive process and announced on the final day of the Obama administration. AV 3.0 argues that DOT need not “favor particular locations” or “pick winners and losers” for AV testing activities.

Along with its rollout of AV 3.0, DOT has solicited public comments on the AV 3.0 document itself and the scope of a forthcoming analysis of the workforce impacts of autonomous vehicles. Comments on AV 3.0 are due December 3, 2018, while comments on the workforce analysis are due November 5, 2018.

This blog is part of Covington’s IoT autonomous vehicles series. Please check back here for periodic updates and insights on the industry. Other recent posts include: