The New Federal Laws on Autonomous Cars

As more and more automakers join the race to produce viable self-driving cars, the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) realized a need to establish guidelines for these vehicles. Learn what this new autonomous car policy covers and how it keeps up with the pace of technological development.

Why the DOT and NHTSA Accelerated Their Timeline

Only a few short years ago, the NHTSA director stated that basic guidelines issued in 2013 would direct the development of autonomous vehicles for at least the subsequent decade. After several automakers made rapid advances in this field, however, the DOT and the NHTSA accelerated their proposed timeline quickly. The agencies began developing more concrete policies in early 2016 and announced guidance for autonomous vehicle development and deployment in September 2016.

What the Autonomous Vehicle Policy Covers

Autonomous Vehicle Policy - Auto USA in Dallas

Image via Flickr by Melody Kramer

The new federal policy lays out guidelines for the design and distribution of self-driving cars. These four-part guidelines highlight distinct areas.

Vehicle Performance

These guidelines are geared toward automakers, tech companies, and other developers. They include a 15-point safety assessment that outlines methods for designing, testing, and releasing highly automated vehicles (HAVs). The agencies request that manufacturers sign and adhere to this assessment in order to ensure that automated vehicles are safe for public roadways.

State Policy

While the NHTSA has provided federal guidelines for vehicle development and deployment, states will continue to regulate licensing and other local concerns. Along those lines, several states have already enacted autonomous vehicle legislation. For example, a gubernatorial order in Arizona established a Self-Driving Vehicle Oversight Committee, while Virginia’s governor has announced a research partnership and the creation of automated corridors.

Existing Regulatory Tools

The policy covers several existing tools that the NHTSA can deploy to ensure the safe development of self-driving cars. These regulations enable the agency to prevent unsafe automated vehicles from using public roads.

New Regulatory Tools

Finally, the policy addresses new tools that the NHTSA could devise to keep automated vehicles safe as they continue to evolve. These could include encouraging the development of lifesaving technology and creating standards for more revolutionary automated designs.

How Autonomous Cars Could Change the Future of Driving

The primary reason that the DOT and the NHTSA fast-tracked their autonomous vehicle policy is that this technology could alter the future of driving substantially. The agencies have proposed that thoroughly tested and thoughtfully deployed autonomous vehicles could significantly improve driving across the nation. Self-driving vehicles could also lend greater mobility to elderly and disabled people as well as lower the cost of transportation for families from coast to coast. With more efficient vehicles and less road congestion, autonomous cars could even pave the way for more sustainable transit options. While the DOT and NHTSA guidelines cover several aspects of autonomous vehicles, the agencies still have extensive work to do. They intend to solicit feedback regarding the new guidelines, release best practices for autonomous vehicle cybersecurity, and work with cities across the country to launch initiatives that reshape the future of transportation.