The Department of Transportation has released a request for public comment on “the development of a framework for Automated Driving System (ADS) safety.” This request for comment marks the Biden Administrations’ first foray into the regulation or promotion of the autonomous vehicles sector.
In fact, this request marks the first time the U.S. Government has announced its intention to create a solid framework for autonomous vehicles and autonomous vehicle safety. Until now, autonomous vehicles in the United States have been regulated by the frameworks of individual states and the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). While there has been congressional interest in creating such a framework, notably the SELF Drive Act and the AV START Act, all attempts have been thus far unsuccessful.
While the Obama and Trump Administrations did issue multiple reports concerning the development, safety, and testing of autonomous vehicles, all such reports were voluntary and shared best practices for manufactures and states. This potential framework from the DOT seems to be much more substantive. The request states that the framework would “objectively define, assess, and manage the safety of ADS performance while ensuring the needed flexibility to enable further innovation.” Clearly, this framework would mark a significant change in how the federal government relates to autonomous vehicles and autonomous vehicle companies.
The request for public comment comes at a time of increasing maturity and realization for the autonomous vehicle industry, particularly in the U.S. In the last year alone, the AV space has seen multiple companies consolidate, Nuro receive a permit to deploy their delivery vehicles, and Cruise receive authorization to offer driverless rides to the California public. Additionally, during the pandemic, multiple autonomous vehicle companies found ways for their fleets to contribute to the national response. The autonomous vehicle industry in the U.S. is coming into its own and beginning to realize the goal of self-driving vehicles.
While the U.S. autonomous vehicle industry ranks among the world leaders, the U.S. Government lags far behind other nations in preparation for an autonomous future and regulation of autonomous vehicles. In the 2020 KPMG International Autonomous Vehicle Readiness Index, the U.S. ranked second in “Technology and Innovation,” but sixth in “policy and Legislation” and ninth in “Infrastructure.” Although the Biden Administration has been adamant about the need to improve the nation’s infrastructure, the administration has yet to comment on autonomous vehicles.
This announcement comes just weeks after Reuters revealed that Dan Ammann, the CEO of Cruise, sent President Biden a letter requesting that he support the U.S. Autonomous Vehicles Industry by raising the cap on exemptions to the FMVSS. In his letter, Mr. Ammann pitched the issue as another front in the U.S. and China’s race for Global Economic Leadership. President Biden has often spoken on the need for the U.S. to modernize its infrastructure and invest in the future to maintain parity with Chinese Industry. According to President Biden, the economic competition is centered on whether democracy moves too slowly to compete in the 21st Century. By issuing a framework for autonomous vehicles, the Biden Administration would certainly be taking a step to modernize the relationship between the federal government and the automotive industry.
While there is currently little insight into what this framework may contain, the Driverless Commute will follow each development. For more information on autonomous vehicles globally and in the United States, check out the Global Guide to Autonomous Vehicles and subscribe to the Driverless Commute.