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Self-Driving Cars 2.0

US Federal Government Releases Updated Guidelines

18 July 2019

On September 12, 2017, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released updated guidelines for the regulation of Automated Driving Systems (ADS). These revised guidelines, titled Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety, were released approximately a year after the first guidance from the US federal government. While the original guidance was labeled a policy, the revised guidelines stress their voluntary nature.

The Vision for Safety is divided into two sections (1) Voluntary Guidelines and (2) Technical Assistance to States.

Key Points under Voluntary Guidelines

The Voluntary Guidelines sets forth 12 points it encourages manufacturers to consider when designing ADSs.

  1. System safety – each ADS design should take into consideration and address assessed risks that could impact safety-critical systems.
  2. Operational Design Domain (ODD) – Organizations are encouraged to document the ODD for each ADS available on a vehicle, which means documenting the specific conditions under which the ADS is meant to operate.
  3. Object and Event Detection and Response (OEDR) – each ADS should be able to handle traffic conditions that it would regularly encounter, including reacting to emergency vehicles, crash scenarios and other conditions.
  4. Fallback to Minimal Risk Condition – As a safety feature, an ADS should have a fallback mechanism to notify a human driver of any incidents and, depending on the ADS's level of automation, fallback into a minimal risk condition that does not require driver intervention.
  5. Validation Methods – Organizations are encouraged to develop validation methods for each ADS. The nature of the tests would vary depending on the capabilities of the ADS, but manufacturers should test the competencies of the ADS in normal operational conditions. Such tests might include a combination of simulation, test track and on-road testing. 
  6. Human Machine Interface (HMI) – The complexity of the HMI depends on the stage of automation of the ADS. Manufacturers designing an ADS must consider how to allow either a driver or a remote dispatcher to monitor the ADS at all times and take control of the vehicle as needed.
  7. Vehicle Cybersecurity – Entities designing ADSs are encouraged to follow best practices for cyber vehicle physical systems, including following guidance from the National Institute of Standards and Technology among other organizations.
  8. Crashworthiness – Entities need to design each ADS to maintain its intended performance level in case of a crash.  
  9. Post-Crash ADS Behavior – Organizations should design an ADS, so the system automatically reverts to a safe state directly after it is involved in a crash.
  10. Data Recording – ADS developers are encouraged to establish documented processes for collecting, storing and evaluating data to further the research and development of ADS technology.
  11. Consumer Education – For safety reasons, during the early adoption of ADS technology, the NHTSA encourages the development of training programs for consumers as well as dealers, distributors and employees. Consumer education should cover how to operate an ADS as well as inform consumers of the limits of ADS technology.
  12. Compliance – Organizations are encouraged to document how they intend to comply with all applicable regulations—local, state and federal.
Technical Assistance to States

The Voluntary Guidelines also set forth the NHTSA’s view on federal and state regulatory roles and suggests that states should leave the regulation of safety design for ADS technology to federal entities. The recommended best practices for state legislatures reinforces the guidelines’ stance that government should avoid heavily regulating the development of ADS technology and should prepare for the adoption of such technology.  

Clifford Chance's Abigail Cessna, based in Washington D.C., originally contributed to this article.