Autonomous Vehicle Safety Standards Remain Voluntary After US DoT Policy Update

The United States Department of Transportation announced, this week an updated federal guidance for automated vehicles. The new regulation is aimed at integrating the technology into the national transportation system.  

AV 4.0 is a joint initiative between the White House and the US Department of Transportation, further titled “Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies.”  The update has stronger language regarding federal agency collaboration in addition to new leadership within research and development. 

According to United States Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, “The takeaway from AV 4.0 is that the federal government is all in—for safer, better, and more inclusive transportation, aided by automated driving systems.”  

Chao unveiled the policy update amidst a talk she delivered at CES 2020, in Las Vegas, this week. 

Effectively, the updated 51-page guidance unifies autonomous ideas and efforts across 38 departments and agencies in the United States.  Furthermore, it requires that the US focus on adopting and promoting “flexible, technology-neutral policies that will allow the public, not the federal government or foreign governments, to choose the most economically efficient and effective transportation and mobility solutions.”

It is important to note that the agency had originally said it does not want to interfere with the innovation of autonomous vehicles because they have great potential for life-saving functions.  However, the new guidelines come as a means to address growing concerns about the safety of testing these vehicles on public roads. 

Also, the document specifically puts priority on the safety of autonomous vehicles, though it does not appear to update the federal agency’s existing guidance. This guidance currently recommends that companies should publish voluntary safety self-assessment exemplifying how they are protecting the public from undue risk when they test automated driving systems. 

The document also says, “Voluntary consensus standards can be validated by testing protocols, are supported by private sector conformity assessment schemes, and offer flexibility and responsiveness to the rapid pace of innovation.”  But while the documents also asserts that the US government will promote these “voluntary consensus standards,” there is very little detail about what these standards should be.