Today the US Department of Transportation (DOT) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued their long-awaited report on Automated Vehicles Policy.

The report, Accelerating the Next Revolution in Roadway Safety openly embraces self-driving vehicles.


Highly Automated Vehicle (HAV) Framework


Report Snips, Emphasis Mine

As the digital era increasingly reaches deeper into transportation, our task at the U.S.
Department of Transportation is not only to keep pace, but to ensure public safety while establishing a strong foundation such that the rules of the road can be known, understood, and responded to by industry and the public. The self-driving car raises more possibilities and more questions than perhaps any other transportation innovation under present discussion. That is as it should be. Possessing the potential to uproot personal mobility as we know it, to make it safer and even more ubiquitous than conventional automobiles and perhaps even more efficient, self-driving cars have become the archetype of our future transportation.

Still, important concerns emerge. Will they fully replace the human driver? What ethical judgments will they be called upon to make? What socioeconomic impacts flow from such a dramatic change? Will they disrupt the nature of privacy and security? Many of these larger questions will require longer and more thorough dialogue with government, industry, academia and, most importantly, the public.

As the Department charged with protecting the traveling public, we recognize three realities that necessitate this guidance. First, the rise of new technology is inevitable. Second, we will achieve more significant safety improvements by establishing an approach that translates our knowledge and aspirations into early guidance. Third, as this area evolves, the “unknowns” of today will become “knowns” tomorrow. We do not intend to write the final word on highly automated vehicles here. Rather, we intend to establish a foundation and a framework upon which future Agency action will occur.

For DOT, the excitement around highly automated vehicles (HAVs) starts with safety. Two numbers exemplify the need. First, 35,092 people died on U.S. roadways in 2015 alone. Second, 94 percent of crashes can be tied to a human choice or error. An important promise of HAVs is to address and mitigate that overwhelming majority of crashes. Whether through technology that corrects for human mistakes, or through technology that takes over the full driving responsibility, automated driving innovations could dramatically decrease the number of crashes tied to human choices and behavior. HAVs also hold a learning advantage over humans. While a human driver may repeat the same mistakes as millions before them, an HAV can benefit from the data and experience drawn from thousands of other vehicles on the road. DOT is also encouraged about the potential for HAV systems to use other complementary sensor technologies such as vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) and vehicle-to-infrastructure (V2I) capabilities to improve system performance. These sensor technologies have their own potential to reduce the number and severity of crashes, and the inclusion of V2V and V2I capabilities could augment the safety and performance of HAV systems.

The benefits don’t stop with safety. Innovations have the potential to transform personal mobility and open doors to people and communities—people with disabilities, aging populations, communities where car ownership is prohibitively expensive, or those who prefer not to drive or own a car—that today have limited or impractical options. Cities will reconsider how space is utilized and how public transit is provided. Infrastructure capacity could be increased without pouring a single new truck load of concrete. HAVs may also have the potential to save energy and reduce air pollution from transportation through efficiency and by supporting vehicle electrification.

State Policy

Today, a motorist can drive across state lines without a worry more complicated than, “did the speed limit change?” The integration of HAVs should not change that ability. Similarly, a manufacturer should be able to focus on developing a single HAV fleet rather than 50 different versions to meet individual state requirements. State governments play an important role in facilitating HAVs, ensuring they are safely deployed, and promoting their life-saving benefits. The Model State Policy confirms that States retain their traditional responsibilities for vehicle licensing and registration, traffic laws and enforcement, and motor vehicle insurance and liability regimes.

Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles

Under current law, manufacturers bear the responsibility to self-certify that all of the vehicles they manufacture for use on public roadways comply with all applicable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). Therefore, if a vehicle is compliant within the existing FMVSS regulatory framework and maintains a conventional vehicle design, there is currently no specific federal legal barrier to an HAV being offered for sale.

In addition to safety, automated vehicles can provide significant, life-altering mobility benefits for persons with disabilities, older persons, and others who may not be considered in conventional design programs. DOT encourages manufacturers and other entities to consider the full array of users and their specific needs during the development process.

Four Mish Conclusions

  1. The Department of Transportation (DOT) fully embraced self-driving vehicles. There is no other interpretation.
  2. DOT will set the rules. There will not be a patchwork of state-by-state regulations. States will only retain licensing, insurance, and speed limit regulations.
  3. DOT expects, as do I, that HAVs will address and mitigate the overwhelming majority of crashes. DOT notes that 94 percent of crashes can be tied to a human choice or error.
  4. My long-stated timeframe for millions of long-haul trucking jobs to vanish by the 2022-2024 is likely too distant.

The Fed is on the verge of getting the major productivity boost it seeks. Will it like the result?

Mike “Mish” Shedlock