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Levels of Autonomous Vehicle Operation

Levels of Autonomous Vehicle Operation

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US DOT Relaxes Rules on Self-Driving Car Research

The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has released the third version of voluntary guidelines (AV 3.0) for the development, testing, and real-life use of automated vehicles. The instructions are meant to support “the safe integration of automation into the broad multimodal surface transportation system.”

The Trump DOT is Relaxing Rules on Self-Driving Development

Much of the news coverage about these new rules, which USDOT released Oct. 4, and the way they’re implemented by DOT through future studies reads AV 3.0 as relaxing regulatory burdens from the Obama Administration’s AV 2.0 guide. “Getting to the point where fully autonomous vehicles are ready for public consumption requires a lot of testing, and until this point, the government has been somewhat restrictive on which companies can test what equipment on what roads in which cities. The Trump administration is out to change that.” Streetsblog adds that this report’s new elements are “evidence that the administration isn’t reacting aggressively to ease public concern over the three known deaths by autonomous vehicles.”

For its part, the executive summary includes the following language: “The right approach to achieving safety improvements begins with a focus on removing unnecessary barriers and issuing voluntary guidance, rather than regulations that could stifle innovation.” DOT emphasizes throughout the document that the update comes in part thanks to issues “raised by stakeholders and includes the following key policy and role clarifications.”

AV 3.0 “recognizes that given the rapid increase in automated vehicle testing activities in many locations, there is no need for U.S. DOT to favor particular locations or to pick winners and losers.”

The updated rules also “affirm [sic] U.S. DOT’s authority to establish motor vehicle safety standards that allow for innovative automated vehicle designs— such as vehicles without steering wheels, pedals, or mirrors—and notes that such an approach may require a more fundamental revamping of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) approach to safety standards for application to automated vehicles.”

The Big Picture: DOT Will Stop Hand-holding AV Development

Diving into the report shows DOT having less oversight and authority of the day-to-day testing and removing legacy regulations (like the need for a steering wheel, brake pedal, and side mirrors) so that innovations can flow more freely in AV hardware design.

These car design requirements that may become anachronistic have already come up. The VW ID concept cars have retractable steering wheels that recede into the dashboard when the vehicle enters self-driving mode. The new Audi e-Tron electric vehicle has cameras for side mirrors, but it has to produce analog mirrors for markets like the U.S. which require actual mirrors. With Autopilot 2.0, Tesla claims to be able to have the capability to perform Level 4 self-driving. The company says the cars they sell today have all the sensors needed and once regulators allow, Tesla can turn on near-total autonomy with a software update.

Read the full DOT AV 3.0 Guide: https://www.transportation.gov/AV

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