U.S. Pushes Voluntary Guidelines for AV Industry

Safety advocates say the guidelines for autonomous vehicles "fall well-short of the safeguards that are necessary to protect the public."
Matthew HellerJanuary 9, 2020

The Trump administration has unveiled updated guidelines for self-driving vehicles, saying it wanted to encourage innovation without compromising safety.

In the so-called AV 4.0 guidance released on Wednesday, the Department of Transportation said it will adopt and promote “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.”

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The Optimus Ride autonomous six-seater shuttle bus drives through the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York.

The guidelines are voluntary, reflecting, White House technology adviser Michael Kratsios said, the administration’s intent to “help foster an environment for innovators to advance safe [autonomous vehicle] technologies.” Among other things, automakers would be allowed to submit self-assessments on safety.

“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,” Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said.

But safety advocates said the voluntary approach would put the public at risk.

“Without strong leadership and regulations … AV manufacturers can and will continue to introduce extremely complex supercomputers-on-wheels onto public roads, in direct contact with vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians and other road users, with meager government oversight,” said Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Cathy Chase.

“Voluntary guidelines are completely unenforceable, will not result in adequate performance standards, and fall well-short of the safeguards that are necessary to protect the public,” she added.

As Politico reports, “Congress has stalemated over issues such as manufacturers’ legal liability for crashes and the roles of state and local governments in testing and deploying [AV] technology, leaving DOT’s guidance as the only definitive word from Washington, for now.”

According to DOT, AV 4.0 has three core aims — prioritizing safety and security, promoting innovation, and ensuring a consistent regulatory approach across federal agencies. “I want the federal government to support innovation but not at the risk of safety,” Chao told Reuters.

But Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), who chairs the House subcommittee responsible for driverless car legislation, said the DOT “should establish meaningful rules, not just guidelines, to ensure innovative transportation technologies are safely deployed.”

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