Two Months Later, Stakeholders Still Flooding NHTSA with Comments on AV Policy

Two Months Later, Stakeholders Still Flooding NHTSA with Comments on AV Policy

November 10, 2017  | Greg Rogers

November 9, 2017

Two months after releasing Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is continuing to receive a steady stream of feedback from stakeholders.

Since the document was published, the agency has conducted a workshop and listening session to answer questions from the public and consider recommendations from public and private entities. At press time, NHTSA had also received 2,742 public comments on the docket (NHTSA-2017-0082) before the due date of November 14th at 11:59pm Eastern.

Commonly referred to as 2.0, the document was intended be clearer than its 120-page predecessor, the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy, which seemed to create more questions for automated vehicle (AV) manufacturers and policymakers than answers. This was largely due to its imprecise language and clunky wording around how the agency expected manufacturers to follow its voluntary guidance.

In response, the thirty-something pages of 2.0 were painstakingly written and rewritten to ensure each sentence was as clear as possible, according to an agency official. While this version did result in less confusion, the public sector has continued to express concerns about its delineation of the roles of federal, state, and local governments in regulating this emerging technology.

As the nation’s primary safety regulator for motor vehicles, NHTSA sets design and performance standards for every type of on-road vehicle. This includes cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and everything in between. However, since AV technology is still in development, NHTSA has not yet established new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) for AVs.

(Ed. note: ETW recently published a primer on FMVSS that explores why NHTSA has not yet set prescriptive standards for AVs – you can read it here.)

Instead, NHTSA has provided manufacturers with voluntary guidance to help ensure the safe testing and development of AVs. This included an outline of a Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment (VSSA) that manufacturers can use to assess the safety of their AVs across 12 different issue areas.

NHTSA seems to have originally envisioned the VSSA as a standardized form that manufacturers would fill out. Ahead of a public workshop on October 20, the agency published a proposed VSSA template for discussion purposes. Stakeholders have questioned the wisdom of creating a standardized form, since manufacturers may only provide information about the topics that are listed rather than publishing comprehensive reports about their technology.

Instead, some have suggested that manufacturers should have the freedom to communicate the capabilities of their AVs to NHTSA and the public in whichever method works best for them. At the NHTSA listening session on November 6, Michael Cammisa, Vice President of Safety Policy, Connectivity & Technology at American Trucking Associations (ATA), said that ATA does not believe there should be a standard for the VSSA at this time.

The issue with this approach is that NHTSA staff will have to spend significantly more time combing through each automaker’s document – which could include redundant background information and may not be organized by safety areas – rather than being able to quickly find the information that they need.

This was the case for Waymo’s VSSA, which was the first one to be published by a manufacturer. The document was meant to serve two purposes: communicating with the public and describing its AVs to NHTSA. As a result, it looks like more of a research report that covers a range of themes rather than a document that formally provides information to the nation’s primary regulator of motor vehicles.

Interested parties can submit comments on the VSSA and other issues here until the November 14 deadline. The comments will be considered as USDOT continues its work on version 3.0, of which ETW has published a sneak peek here.

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