The Trump administration has established its support for self-driving car deployment, following the U.S. Department of Transportation’s release Tuesday of new federal guidelines for automobile manufacturers and technology companies vying to create fully automated systems.
The new guidelines are seen as a win for the automated vehicles industry, allowing the private sector’s innovation to progress without much formal regulation.
At the University of Michigan on Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao introduced the department’s voluntary guidance, “Automated Driving Systems (ADS): A Vision for Safety 2.0” — a set of suggestions for states and industry that are intended to encourage, not hamper, autonomous vehicle development.
Ms. Chao said the goal is to “usher in this new era of transportation, innovation and safety,” noting the U.S. is a global leader in automated vehicles technology that could save countless lives later down the road.
The new guidance, formulated in conjunction with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration over the past year, is partially based on 160 replies that the NHTSA received during a public comment period in response to earlier guidelines — the “Federal Automated Vehicles Policy” — issued last September.
The new guidance puts the focus on 12 safety elements the agency believes are pivotal in design considerations, including vehicle cybersecurity, crashworthiness, data collection, and consumer education and training.
The document also outlines federal and state roles in automated driving systems. NHTSA remains responsible for regulating safety design, performance aspects and equipment in motor vehicles. States must regulate the human driver and licensing.
Players in the autonomous vehicle landscape are encouraged to regularly submit safety self-assessments, but it’s not a requirement.
The NHTSA said it “strongly encourages states not to codify” the guidance, incorporating it into state statutes, to avoid any impediment of technological advancement in self-driving cars.
Ms. Chao referred to the guidelines as a “living document” that will allow public comment to influence future iterations.
The new guidance comes less than a week after the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill, known as the SELF DRIVE Act, aimed at lifting motor vehicle standards that previously stymied the introduction of new technologies for autonomous cars.
A similar bill is currently being drafted in the U.S. Senate and a hearing is expected Wednesday.
The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, which was formed in April 2016 by Ford, Lyft, Uber, Volvo Cars and Waymo, supported the Transportation Department’s framework in a statement Tuesday.
“With more than 35,000 motor vehicle deaths in 2015, the potential safety benefits of fully self-driving technology are too important to delay,” said general counsel David Strickland.
Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group in Santa Monica, Calif., found the guidelines threatening and called for mandatory, enforceable standards.
“This isn’t a vision for safety,” John M. Simpson, privacy project director, said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “It’s a roadmap that allows manufacturers to do whatever they want, wherever and whenever they want, turning our roads into private laboratories for robot cars with no regard for our safety.”
The new guidance addresses vehicles in automation levels three through five, which are parameters set forth by SAE International, a Warrendale-based safety nonprofit composed of global technical experts.
Level 3, “conditional automation” is the first level where a human is not in primary control although a licensed driver must be prepared to take over if the system malfunctions. Level 5 is a self-explanatory “full automation.”
Mr. Simpson criticized that narrow focus, noting Level 2 technology, like Tesla’s Autopilot, has been seen as a factor in some driver deaths.
He also noted the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has not held a public hearing on autonomous vehicle policy since President Trump was inaugurated, and the new DOT Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation, created in January, has not yet met.
Courtney Linder: [email protected] or 412-263-1707. Twitter: @LinderPG.