DOT Unveils New Autonomous Vehicle Safety Guidelines

SEPTEMBER 12, 2017

The Department of Transportation (DOT) announced this week new, streamlined safety guidelines for autonomous vehicles. Both the Trump and Obama administrations have pushed to remove regulatory barriers for self-driving cars and trucks.

The new voluntary DOT guidelines, “A Vision for Safety,” are about one-half the length of the Obama Administration’s September 2016 guidelines. Automakers have been pushing for the elimination of regulatory barriers to putting autonomous vehicles on the road.

The Obama administration guidelines asked automakers to voluntarily submit details of their autonomous vehicle systems using a 15-point “safety assessment.” At the same time, the former administration asked states to defer to the federal government on most self-driving vehicle regulations.

The Trump administration guidelines will not require automakers to get pre-approval from the federal government. It is the Trump administration’s first statement on autonomous vehicles. The new guidelines stress the need for consumer education on self-driving vehicles.

DOT’s announcement may be overshadowed by congressional efforts to speed commercialization of autonomous vehicles. Last week, the House passed bipartisan legislation (the “Self Drive Act”) that, if enacted, would allow automakers to put up to 25,000 self-driving vehicles on the road in the first year without meeting existing car safety standards. The “cap” would increase to 100,000 vehicles over three years. While automakers would be required to provide safety assessments of their autonomous vehicle technology to federal regulators, they would not have to await government approval.

A group of Senators introduced a companion measure last week in the Senate, and hearings on the measure are being held this week.

Separately, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its findings this week that “operational limitations” of Tesla's semi-autonomous Autopilot mode in its Model S contributed to the May 2016 death of a motorist. The NTSB recommended that federal auto safety regulators and automakers take steps to ensure the proper use of semi-autonomous systems.