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Department of Transportation Releases Automated Vehicles 3.0

“Automated Vehicles 3.0” is the third iteration of the federal government’s “voluntary” guidelines on the development and deployment of automated vehicle technology, and it puts a fine point on the pro-industry approach on automated vehicles that the federal government has been espousing for several years now.

The 80-page report highlights federal actions to “streamline regulatory barriers” and provides recommendations for state and local governments and private industries as autonomous vehicle testing accelerates. In the written introduction to the report, Secretary Chao states, “AV 3.0 introduces guiding principles and describes the Department’s strategy to address existing barriers to safety innovation and progress.” AV 3.0 builds upon but does not replace the voluntary guidance DOT provides in Automated Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety, which was issued in September 2017.

The update, which now also pertains to trucks, transit systems, cars and trains, highlights six central principles. They indicate that DOT will:

  • Prioritize safety.
  • Remain technology neutral.
  • Modernize regulations.
  • Encourage consistent regulations.
  • Prepare proactively for automation.
  • Protect the freedoms enjoyed by Americans.

Like the 2.0 version, 3.0 is a voluntary guidance document (the word “voluntary” occurs no less than 54 times in the document). In particular, it doubles down on the “voluntary safety self-assessment” (VSSA) process established in 2.0 in lieu of legally binding federal safety standards: “U.S. DOT encourages entities to make their VSSA available publicly as a way to promote transparency and strengthen public confidence in ADS technologies.”

The new 3.0 version is broader in terms of scope of modes of transportation covered and now also includes automation issues throughout all of DOT’s surface transportation modes – 2.0 was almost exclusively about the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and self-driving cars, while the new document deals with commercial vehicles, intermodal facilities, and mass transit vehicles as well (rail is also mentioned, but just barely, and only in the context of getting rail-highway grade crossing equipment to interact with AVs).

The AV 3.0 document is extremely useful as a reference source – in the back of the document, Tables 1 and 2 in Appendix C list every single existing AV-related standardization document and every known ongoing attempt for standardization by the International Standards Organization, the Society of Automotive Engineers, and others.

Additionally, the agency is working on updating language and regulations that it said “unintentionally hamper automated vehicle progress”. It will adapt its definitions of “driver” and “operator” to reflect that they no longer always refer to humans and can encompass automated systems. The DOT also announced a future notice of proposed rulemaking that will suggest exceptions to certain safety standards that apply only to human drivers — such as pedals, brakes, mirrors and steering wheels — for automated systems.

Under the new guidance, commercial trucks, ports, transit buses, and railways must begin developing plans for self-driving technology. Among its goals to accelerate “technology neutral” innovation without any formal rulemaking, the Department of Transportation is requiring outside agencies to cooperate with a fully-automated future.

The Department of Labor will study how automation will affect driving jobs, the Department of Homeland Security needs to provide tips on vehicle cybersecurity, and the Federal Trade Commission has to ensure vehicle owner data isn’t abused.

On the Legislative front the bill, known as the Highly Automated Vehicle Testing and Deployment Act of 2017 remains in the House while the AV START Act is in the Senate. Now that the elections are behind us, these legislative proposals and bills will again be subject to much debate and we need to continue to be in the middle of it to stave of preemption and protect consumers and safety.

Stay Tuned.


Jaime Jackson

Jaime Jackson

Jaime Jackson is a Pennsylvania-based product liability lawyer who has developed a specialty in automotive products liability and in airbag defects, seat and seatbelt failures, rollovers, roof crush and post-collision fuel fed fires, together with other vehicle failures.

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