On November 23, 2020, Ariel Wolf was quoted in Law360 on a recent notice from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) signaling that it may eventually adopt new safety standards for vehicles with automated driving systems (ADS).
According to the article, NHTSA issued an advance notice of proposed rulemaking on November 19, opening the door for automakers and artificial intelligence and technology developers to weigh in on how the agency should go about crafting a regulatory framework that addresses safety standards governing ADS performance. Such a framework would go beyond just spelling out ADS design standards like whether self-driving cars should still be built with traditional car features such as a steering wheel, brake pedal, or manual controls.
In March, NHTSA issued a notice of proposed rulemaking seeking to "modernize" the safety standards and "clarify ambiguities" related to how passenger safety features such as seat belts and air bags should be designed in vehicles equipped with automated driving systems. The series of "regulatory instruments" was focused on removing regulatory barriers to the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles, according to Wolf.
He said that with the latest notice, NHTSA is looking ahead and figuring out how to go about "determin[ing] if some neutral party can point to the actual brains of the ADS and say, 'Well, that's safe,' [because] the public has the right to be assured that there's a safety validation to the ADS." The agency won't be imposing stiff engineering standards just yet, but it is mindful that the alternative of doing nothing on oversight isn't the right approach either, Wolf said.
"They've struck the right balance," Wolf said. "That's what this document lays out. There's a framework that can provide for the safety of ADS but provide for the flexibility to develop and innovate going forward."
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