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Here’s the federal plan to accelerate the self-driving car revolution


After several delays, it’s finally here. The US government released today its plan to accelerate the implementation of self-driving cars with guidelines for automakers and tech companies developing the technology.

The 116-page document (embedded below) offers a framework for the so-far confusedly regulated industry.

The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) presents the new guidelines as a way to help ensure the safe deployment of what it calls “highly automated vehicles” (HAVs), while doing everything it can to not slow it down or suffocate it under regulations.

The DOT, and even the president based on his op-ed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette yesterday, seem very aware of the potential of self-driving cars in helping reduce the number of fatalities on our roads.

“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.2 An important promise of HAVs is to address and mitigate that overwhelming majority of crashes. “

It’s important to point out that the document is more for guidance toward best practices than an actual rulebook.

It includes four sections:

  • Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles
  • Model State Policy
  • NHTSA’s Current Regulatory Tools
  • New Tools and Authorities

In short, the document sets the DOT’s expectations for the industry for short-term test and deployment of the technology and highlight the tools and policies in place to achieve those expectations.

As for defining the levels of automation, the DOT decided to adopt the SAE International (SAE) definitions for levels of automation:

  • At SAE Level 0, the human driver does everything;
  • At SAE Level 1, an automated system on the vehicle can sometimes assist the human driver conduct some parts of the driving task;
  • At SAE Level 2, an automated system on the vehicle can actually conduct some parts of the driving task, while the human continues to monitor the driving environment and performs the rest of the driving task;
  • At SAE Level 3, an automated system can both actually conduct some parts of the driving task and monitor the driving environment in some instances, but the human driver must be ready to take back control when the automated system requests;
  • At SAE Level 4, an automated system can conduct the driving task and monitor the driving environment, and the human need not take back control, but the automated system can operate only in certain environments and under certain conditions; and
  • At SAE Level 5, the automated system can perform all driving tasks, under all conditions that a human driver could perform them.

If you want all the details, here’s the document in full:

[scribd id=324663680 key=key-FYXY8czVmQiENffIoEn6 mode=scroll]

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