Products Liability Law Daily NHTSA seeks comments on regulatory barriers to testing and certification of automated driving systems
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Thursday, January 18, 2018

NHTSA seeks comments on regulatory barriers to testing and certification of automated driving systems

By Colleen Kave, J.D.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requested public comments to identify any regulatory barriers in the existing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) to the testing, compliance certification, and compliance verification of motor vehicles with Automated Driving Systems (ADSs) and certain unconventional interior designs. Specifically, the agency is focused on vehicles with ADSs that lack manual driving controls for a human driver; e.g., steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator pedal. Comments must be received by March 5, 2018 (NHTSA Notice83 FR 2607, January 18, 2018).

Background. Due to rapid evolution in automotive transportation, technologies such as artificial intelligence and improvements in sensors, cameras, lidar, and radar, motor vehicles will soon be able to drive themselves. The introduction of vehicles with ADSs into the fleet has the potential to reduce injuries, the loss of life, property damage, and congestion, as well as enhance mobility and improve productivity. NHTSA anticipates that automation can serve a vital safety role given that human error is estimated to be the critical factor in 94 percent of crashes.

To enable the use of vehicles with ADSs and with unconventional interiors while maintaining those existing safety requirements that will be needed and appropriate for those vehicles, NHTSA is developing plans and proposals for removing or modifying existing regulatory barriers to testing and compliance certification in those areas for which existing data and knowledge are sufficient to support decision-making. In other areas, plans and proposals cannot be developed until the completion of near term research to determine how to revise the test procedures for those vehicles. The agency’s goals are to ensure that the safety performance currently required by the FMVSS is as effective and needed for safety in vehicles with unconventional interiors (or exteriors) as in conventionally-designed vehicles. In some cases, existing requirements that serve a safety purpose in vehicles with manual driving controls may be irrelevant to vehicles without such means of control. For example, there may not be any need to require that the telltales and other displays in a vehicle that does not have any manual driving controls be visible either to the occupant of a particular seating position or even to any occupant at all. In addition, some requirements may serve a safety purpose in vehicles that carry human occupants, but not in vehicles that will not carry any occupants.

Input requested. To help guide NHTSA’s research to address testing and self-certification issues, the agency seeks comments on a variety of topics, including:

  • What are the different categories of barriers that the FMVSS potentially create to the testing, certification, and compliance verification of a new ADS vehicle lacking manual driving controls?
  • Are there ways to solve the problems that may be posed by any of these FMVSS provisions without conducting additional research?
  • Are there ways to solve the problems that may be posed by any of these FMVSS provisions without rulemaking?
  • If legislation might be necessary to enable NHTSA to remove an identified barrier, which specific existing law should be changed and how should it be changed?
  • For FMVSS that include test procedures that assume a human driver is seated in a certain seating position, should NHTSA simply amend the FMVSS to require, for instance, that "driver’s seat" requirements apply to any front seating position?
  • Is there a safety need for telltales and other displays in Tables 1 and 2 of FMVSS 101 to be visible to any of the occupants in vehicles without manual driving controls?
  • If NHTSA is going to conduct research to determine whether there is any safety need for the occupants of fully self-driving vehicles to continue to be able to control exterior lighting like turn signals and headlamp beam switching devices, or to be able to see to the side and behind those vehicles using mirrors or cameras, what should that research include and how should NHTSA conduct it?
  • If occupants of vehicles with ADSs, especially those without manual driving controls, are less likely to sit in what is now called the driver’s seating position or are less likely to sit in seats that are facing forward, how should these factors affect existing requirements for crashworthiness safety features?
  • If vehicles with ADSs have emergency controls that can be accessed through unconventional means, such as a smart phone or multi-purpose display, and have unconventional interiors, how should NHTSA address those controls?
  • For issues about FMVSS barriers that NHTSA needs research to resolve, are there specific items that would be better addressed through research by outside stakeholders, such as industry or research organizations, instead of by NHTSA itself?

Comments must not be more than 15 pages long, although there is no limit on the length of any additional attached documents. Interested parties may read the comments received on the internet at www.regulations.gov.

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