USDOT Moving Forward with AV Policy 3.0, Including Truck and Bus Automation

January 12, 2018

At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced USDOT’s first public steps to advance the next generation of federal automated vehicle (AV) policies in 2018.

As ETW first reported in November, version 3.0 of USDOT’s AV policy document will expand the department’s role in the technology’s development from the pure regulation of AV components and into the implementation of automation across all modes of on-road transportation.

The first two versions of the AV policies, the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy Statement and Advanced Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety, provided AV manufacturers with guidance on how the technology would be regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and advised states on best practices for regulating them in their jurisdictions.

But 3.0 will go beyond this by incorporating other modal administrations beyond NHTSA that will have a hand in overseeing the testing and eventual implementation of automation technologies. This includes:

  • Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), which oversees the operation of heavy-duty trucks and buses.
  • Federal Transit Administration (FTA), which oversees transit operations across the U.S.
  • Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), which will assess the infrastructure needs for AV implementation.

Each of these entities will have a hand in preparing the nation’s infrastructure and forms of on-road transportation for automation. As a USDOT official indicated last year, contributions from each administration will include regulatory/deregulatory actions, research and data collection, stakeholder engagement, and/or pilot programs.

Notably, FTA already unveiled its initiative, the Strategic Transit Automation Research (STAR) Plan, last month. This will include research programs, collaboration between public transit agencies and manufacturers, and seven integrated pilot programs.

On Wednesday, Chao unveiled the next step of gathering public comments from stakeholders across three different agencies: FTA, FHWA, and NHTSA.

FHWA: Request for Information on Integration of Automated Driving Systems (ADS) into the Highway Transportation System

Through this RFI, FHWA hopes to better understand the infrastructure needs for AVs and how to maximize their potential benefits. This will draw on industry experts, relevant stakeholders, and the general public to inform FHWA’s strategy development for AV integration.

FTA: Request for Comments on Automated Transit Buses Research Program

As FTA develops its notices of funding opportunities (NOFOs) for transit bus automation, these comments are intended to gauge the interest and ability of the private sector to provide resources for pilot projects – and, in turn, the role that public transit agencies hope to play.

FTA: Request for Comments on Removing Barriers to Transit Bus Automation 

The automation of transit buses will pose a number of questions about agency operations, labor participation, and legal/regulatory barriers. The responses to this RFC will inform FTA’s contribution to 3.0, particularly the implementation of automation in transit buses.

NHTSA: Request for Comments on Removing Regulatory Barriers for Automated Vehicles

NHTSA’s regulations on the design, construction, and performance of motor vehicles in the United States – known as the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) – were originally written with only human drivers in mind. While these standards are certainly necessary for human-driven vehicles, many of them will need to be updated in order to allow for the manufacturing and operation of fully autonomous vehicles without human-facing controls (e.g., steering wheels and brake pedals).

(Ed. note: For more on FMVSS and AVs, see ETW’s primer here.)

USDOT also published a draft of its guiding principles for the AV DATA initiative, which involves data exchanges intended to accelerate the safe deployment of AVs. This is intended to encourage government and industry stakeholders together to share information in a manner that advances productive dialogues and informed solutions to AV deployment challenges.

More requests for public comment are forthcoming, including from FMCSA on potential updates to regulations on the operation of commercial motor vehicles.

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