The Driverless Commute: New Federal Autonomous Vehicle Rules on the Horizon

On Wednesday, May 22, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) announced they will publish in the Federal Register advanced notices of proposed rulemaking (ANPRMs) seeking public comment on possible amendments to two sets of federal regulations that impact autonomous vehicles: the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs). The NHTSA notice is available here, and the FMCSA notice here. Both agencies’ calls for public comment are aimed at determining whether the rules and regulations currently in place could hamper the effective rollout of autonomous vehicles.

Specifically, the NHTSA is “requesting comment on the near- and long-term challenges of testing and verifying compliance with existing crash avoidance (100-series) Federal Motor Vehicle Standards for Automated Driving System-Dedicated Vehicles (ADS-DVs) that lack traditional manual controls necessary for a human driver to maneuver the vehicle and other features intended to facilitate operation of a vehicle by a human driver, but that are otherwise traditional vehicles with typical seating configurations.”  The notice requests comments “on the suitability of various approaches that could be used to address compliance verification challenges that exist for crash avoidance standards that either (1) require a manual control; or (2) specify the use of manual controls in a compliance test procedure.”

Similarly, the FMCSA is asking for “public comment about Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations (FMCSRs) that may need to be amended, revised, or eliminated to facilitate the safe introduction of automated driving systems (ADS) equipped commercial motor vehicles (CMVs) onto our Nation’s roadways.”  Changes to the regulations may be necessary “to account for significant differences between human operators and ADS.”

This joint effort follows a previous round of public comments at both agencies. In January 2018, the NHTSA requested input from industry stakeholders to identify regulatory barriers in the FMVSS to the testing, compliance certification and compliance verification of driverless vehicles without traditional manual controls. Based on the comments received, the NHTSA identified several rules that pose barriers to the widespread adoption of autonomous vehicles: FMVSS Nos. 108, 114, 138, 105, 121 and 136.

Similarly, in March 2018, the FMCSA solicited public comments on existing FMCSRs that may need to be updated, modified or eliminated to facilitate the safe introduction of ADS-equipped CMVs. Based on the comments received, the FMCSA concluded that near-term, Level 4 operations (i.e., those in which the ADS technology may have complete control of the CMV under certain circumstances) are likely to involve a human driver, and that that human driver should be subject to the current driver-related rules.

Both departments are requesting responses by no later than 60 days after publication in the Federal Register, meaning comments are likely to be due in late July or early August. If you are interested in submitting comments on either rulemaking, please reach out to Eric Tanenblatt or Matthew Ludwig.


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Eric Tanenblatt

About Eric Tanenblatt

Eric Tanenblatt is the Global Chair of Public Policy and Regulation of Dentons, the world's largest law firm. He also leads the firm's US Public Policy Practice, leveraging his three decades of experience at the very highest levels of the federal and state governments.

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Crawford Schneider

About Crawford Schneider

Crawford Schneider is an associate managing director in Dentons' Public Policy and Regulation practice focusing on matters involving state and local government affairs, including legislative/regulatory research and drafting, land use and zoning, economic development, public-private partnerships, public policy surrounding disruptive transportation, and international trade and investment.

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Matthew Ludwig

About Matthew Ludwig

Matthew is a member of the Federal Regulatory and Compliance practice at Dentons, where he focuses primarily on administrative, regulatory and commercial matters in the rail and transportation sector. He has extensive experience with rail mergers, acquisitions, line constructions, abandonments, and other rail licensing proceedings, competition issues, safety compliance, environmental issues, and disputes between freight and passenger railroads.

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