Feds release new AV policy

Elaine Chao CES 2020

The U.S. Department of Transportation has announced the latest federal guidance for automated vehicles aimed at integrating the technology into the nation’s transportation system.

AV 4.0 — Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies, a joint White House and U.S. Department of Transportation initiative, builds on previous policy documents released over the past few years — but includes stronger language around federal agency collaboration and research and development leadership.

“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,” said U.S. DOT Secretary Elaine Chao, who unveiled the new policy during a talk delivered at CES 2020 in Las Vegas on Wednesday.

The new guidance unifies autonomous efforts across 38 U.S. departments and agencies, according to Chao. 

It calls on the U.S. to 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.”

The document prioritizes safety of autonomous vehicles but does not appear to update previous guidance from the federal agency that recommended companies publish voluntary safety self-assessment showing how they are not exposing the public to undue risk when testing automated driving systems.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said in November that regulators should make those assessments mandatory and ensure automated vehicles have appropriate safeguards. 

The board made the recommendations after investigating the March 2018 death of a pedestrian in a collision with an Uber test vehicle.

To date, 16 self-driving companies have submitted the safety reports, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In addition to Ford, GM and other automakers, autonomous trucking outfits Ike, TuSimple and Starsky Robotics have filed documents describing their systems and approaches. 

Chao’s CES speech Wednesday touched on regulatory developments in drone and space transportation.

She said the DOT recently announced a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking for remote identification of drones. The rule would apply to all drones over .55 pounds that are required to be registered with the Federal Aviation Administration. The 60-day public comment period ends March 2.  

The agency is also streamlining launch and reentry licensing processes to enable further growth in the space sector, overhauling “outdated and cumbersome licensing regulations” and establishing an Office of Spaceports.

The coming year will bring additional rulemakings in this arena, according to Chao.