US-NHTSA to Update Guidelines for Testing Autonomous Vehicles

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【Summary】As the self-driving sector continues to mature, so does the guidelines surrounding various aspects of development.

Original Michael Cheng    Oct 10, 2018 11:15 AM PT
US-NHTSA to Update Guidelines for Testing Autonomous Vehicles

Accelerating the launch of autonomous vehicles on public roads requires a set of regulations that support the goals of the nascent industry. As the self-driving sector continues to mature, so does the guidelines surrounding various aspects of development.

In the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced a rewrite of outdated regulations surrounding driverless cars. Most of the revisions will focus on streamlining research and development efforts for automakers. During the announcement the NHTSA also praised autonomous driving technology, citing its relevant applications in promoting road safety.

Rewriting Regulations for Driverless Cars

The NHTSA released details of the updates in an 80-page document titled Automated Vehicles 3.0. To ensure transparency, the group will factor in public comments about the proposed changes. Part of the updates include guidelines pertaining to human drivers being present inside an autonomous car. Many feel this has created challenges during testing, as the ultimate goal for the vehicles is to operate without assistance from a human driver.

"The major factor in 94 percent of all fatal crashes is human error. So [Automated Driving Systems] have the potential to significantly reduce highway fatalities by addressing the root cause of these tragic crashes," said NHTSA in a report.

The NHTSA document also aims to ease regulatory restrictions for deploying driverless cars without steering wheels, pedals and conventional side mirrors. This issue can be traced to a petition filed by GM earlier this year, which requested exemption from current guidelines that may prevent the car manufacturer from moving forward with the deployment of an autonomous ride-sharing fleet in 2019.

At the moment, cars used on public roads must cater to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, including the presence of 16 human-driving controls. For its fleet of driverless cars, GM wants to circumvent such regulations by replacing traditional controls with viable alternatives.

Pilot Programs in Public Locations

Overall, the NHTSA's timely announcement is positive news for the industry. Such changes will likely take some time to draft and enforce, based on the administration's current views of autonomous driving technology. According to the report, the NHTSA is still in the process of gathering data to better understand the effects of such cars on long-term transportation trends and road safety.

For the NHTSA, a notable channel for gathering information includes pilot projects that test self-driving cars in public locations. If the organization moves in this direction, an increase in new testing programs for autonomous cars is expected. Moreover, the pilot projects will likely take place in new locations and cities that are currently not open to such activities.

It is important to highlight that US law does not require the NTHSA's standards to be based on real-world and physical testing. Because of this, the organization could incorporate computer simulations to streamline the creation of new safety standards.

"NHTSA anticipates that these data will provide needed information that will better enable the public and private sectors to realize the promises and overcome the challenges of vehicles with high and full driving automation," explained the administration.

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