The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is expected to release its federal guidelines for autonomous vehicles in July and the agency’s senior administrator, Dr. Mark Rosekind, said to expect something different from the regulators to reflect the disrupting aspect of self-driving technologies.

Rosekind made the comment during a panel at the TU-Automotive auto-tech conference in Novi (via readwrite):

“What is unusual is everybody expects regulation comes out and that’s what it is forever, and NHTSA’s job is react and enforce it. That will not work with this area. I think we’re going to have something different in July.”

The regulator said that NHTSA’s rules will focus on four main areas.

It will look at deployment. It could cover testing regulations all the way to commercialization. Secondly. the federal agency will offer guidelines on state policies, which are currently governing self-driving car testings. We could see a homogenisation of the rules which could ultimately make deployment easier.

NHTSA will also look into clarifying the process terminology. The agency defines the different levels of vehicle automation, but it leaves room for interpretation. Here are the current levels:

No-Automation (Level 0): The driver is in complete and sole control of the primary vehicle controls – brake, steering, throttle, and motive power – at all times.

Function-specific Automation (Level 1): Automation at this level involves one or more specific control functions. Examples include electronic stability control or pre-charged brakes, where the vehicle automatically assists with braking to enable the driver to regain control of the vehicle or stop faster than possible by acting alone.

Combined Function Automation (Level 2): This level involves automation of at least two primary control functions designed to work in unison to relieve the driver of control of those functions. An example of combined functions enabling a Level 2 system is adaptive cruise control in combination with lane centering.

Limited Self-Driving Automation (Level 3): Vehicles at this level of automation enable the driver to cede full control of all safety-critical functions under certain traffic or environmental conditions and in those conditions to rely heavily on the vehicle to monitor for changes in those conditions requiring transition back to driver control. The driver is expected to be available for occasional control, but with sufficiently comfortable transition time. The Google car is an example of limited self-driving automation.

Full Self-Driving Automation (Level 4): The vehicle is designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. Such a design anticipates that the driver will provide destination or navigation input, but is not expected to be available for control at any time during the trip. This includes both occupied and unoccupied vehicles.

Based on Rosekind’s comments, it looks like the agency will update those classification levels and introduce new rules for automakers to advertise their level of automation more accurately within the new parameters.

Finally, Rosekind said that NHTSA will also release new tools with the announcement set for next month.

The new guidelines are coming right in time as more companies are testing and releasing new autonomous technologies for vehicles.

For example, hacker George “geohot” Hotz’s self-driving car/machine learning startup ‘comma.ai’ aims to release a product for what sounds like level 3 autonomy, but the company was hit with  a cease-and-desist letter from the California Department of Motor Vehicles for operating a “level-4” autonomous vehicle.

Hopefully, the new rules will be clear and they will not impede innovation in the sector while keeping to process as safe as possible.

Featured Image: A member of the media test drives a Tesla Motors Inc. Model S car equipped with Autopilot in Palo Alto, California, U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2015. Tesla Motors Inc Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

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