United States: Autonomous Vehicles: USDOT Issues New Policy On Development And Deployment Of Automated Vehicle Technologies

Last Updated: September 21 2016
Article by Kathryn B. Thomson and Andrew Barr

On Tuesday, September 20th, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) released a new policy designed to expedite the development and deployment of autonomous vehicle (AV) technologies in the United States while protecting public safety. The new policy applies to the full array of AVs, ranging from driver assisted to wholly autonomous technologies. Although the policy pertains to automobiles, a number of aspects of the new policy are likely relevant to autonomous technologies developed or used in other modes of transportation. The Department will accept comment for 60 days.

What’s Included in the New Policy?    

The new policy, which replaces a more conservative policy released in 2013, contains the following sections:

  • A 15-point vehicle performance and safety assessment tool:  The policy contemplates that entities seeking to develop and deploy AVs would submit a detailed assessment to the USDOT that would allow the Department to evaluate the safety of proposed design, testing, and deployment.  The “pre-market approval” tool is not a prescriptive “one-size-fits-all” approach.  Rather, the tool will enable USDOT to use its expertise to assess the safety and reliability of a wide range of AV technologies by evaluating 15 critical safety-based parameters.    
  • A model state policy:  USDOT intends to occupy the field when an automobile is fully automated.  However, to the extent individuals continue to have responsibility for vehicle operations, USDOT contemplates states retaining their traditional regulatory oversight (e.g., licensing; setting forth insurance requirements; etc.).  USDOT also encourages states to work together to establish a coherent and cohesive set of laws to facilitate the development and deployment of AVs across the country. 
  • A list of existing regulatory tools:  The new policy sets out the range of existing regulatory tools that USDOT can draw upon to expedite the development and deployment of AVs (e.g., limited exemptions; regulatory interpretations).  For example, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) current authority to issue widespread manufacturer recalls is equally applicable in the AV context.
  • A discussion of “modern” regulatory tools:  The policy describes 12 potential new tools that USDOT could use to aid timely and safe deployment of innovative technologies.

Notably, the policy envisions greater transparency in data collection and sharing among all stakeholders to expedite the development and deployment of AVs.  The data can be used to better understand and mitigate the risks presented by an array of AV technologies.  The policy also addresses privacy and cybersecurity related to the use of AVs. 

USDOT plans to update the policy annually, and expects to allow stakeholders and other interested parties to submit comments prior to such updates. 

Why Is This Policy Important?

In announcing the new policy, USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx noted that the policy will serve as a long-term, flexible framework for the Department and its stakeholders to follow as AV development and deployment accelerates and increases penetration in the transportation sector.  The policy touches on all key areas of interest to entities working on these technologies (e.g., software and vehicle design standards, safety performance, data collection and sharing, and privacy and cybersecurity).  USDOT will accept comments for 60 days.  It is imperative that interested stakeholders provide comments during this time period to ensure that the Department is able to make fully informed decisions that will allow for innovation to continue.

What’s Next?

USDOT will consider comments received and finalize its new policy.  The Department also plans to release a new rule before the end of the year that will ensure that vehicles have the necessary technology in place to communicate with each other, and that such information is exchanged in a safe and secure manner in order to protect the security of the vehicles as well as the privacy of the individuals therein.

Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Morrison & Foerster LLP. All rights reserved

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Kathryn B. Thomson
Andrew Barr
 
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