The White House has issued voluntary guidance for automakers regarding autonomous vehicles. The new guidelines are expected to streamline and clarify the federal government’s position on the development of level 3-5 autonomous vehicles.
Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced the new guidelines, which erase the need for automakers to seek regulatory approval prior to rolling out new autonomous features. Instead, the new guidelines solidify the federal government’s roll in focusing on the safety and performance of autonomous vehicles, while it encourages states to focus on licensing, registering and the liabilities of self-driving vehicles.
Chao also reiterated that the new guidelines are removing what she calls “unnecessary” design elements and guidelines as part of the self-assessment for autonomous vehicles. Effectively, the new guidelines reduce the number of best practices the federal government recommends when it comes to autonomy.
It is worth noting that the new guidelines are not hardened statutes, meaning there is no legal enforcement mechanism associated with them. Chao told reports she feels “hard and fast” laws regarding autonomous vehicles is the wrong approach right now given the rapid pace of change with the associated technology.
The document has been deemed a win by automakers and technology companies working on autonomous vehicle development. Federal involvement into autonomous development will eliminate the worry that manufacturers would need to meet multiple safety regulations across various states.
Critics of the Administrations guidelines point out the lack of an enforcement mechanism within them and the fact there is no approval process regarding the safety of autonomous features. Chao states that the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) will still issue vehicle recalls in the event of a safety defect.
Last week the U.S. House of Representatives unanimously passed the SELF DRIVE Act, which is legislation intended to remove barriers for automakers to test autonomous vehicles. The act does not require federal approval of autonomous vehicles, but does require manufacturers to submit a safety assessment to the federal government prior to deploying autonomous vehicles for testing. Under the proposed rule-making, manufacturers would be able to seek federal permits to test up to 100,000 autonomous vehicles per year.
The legislation will make its way over to the Senate, where it is also likely to see bipartisan support. This legislation will effectively just codify the Administration’s new guidelines with a permitting process.