By on November 20, 2020

Safety regulators with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said they were opening formal regulatory proceedings to establish new safety standards for autonomous vehicles on Thursday. However, before the NHTSA can get into proposing new rules that will influence how cars that can control themselves will be handled by the U.S. government, it wants citizens to offer their two cents.

We’re talking specifically about Levels 3-5 of automation as defined by SAE, meaning cars that could someday be sold without steering wheels or any other means to take control of the vehicle yourself. It’s something industrial lobbyists with the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI) already have a roadmap for and plan on sharing with the NHTSA soon. Based on the group’s previous initiatives, we imagine it’ll be advocating the government leave as much control in the hands of manufacturers as possible. But you’ll have a limited window to weigh in on that position (or, better yet, share your own) while regulators have an open request for public comment.

Thus far, the NHTSA has been pretty lax in regulating autonomous vehicles. Safety protocols exist but they’re largely voluntary and its main goal appears to be seeing if a hands-off approach to the market will lead to swifter innovation. In Thursday’s announcement, regulators reiterated this point by stating it “has no desire to issue regulations that would needlessly prevent the deployment of any [automated-driving system]-equipped vehicle.”

“This rulemaking will help address legitimate public concerns about safety, security and privacy without hampering innovation in the development of automated driving systems,” said Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.

The agency also warned that hastily decided standards could ultimately stifle innovation and solidify rules that don’t actually promote legitimate improvements to safety. What was not discussed, however, was how decisions might impact the ownership experience — something the industry has been thinking a lot about while it seeks a way to end the private ownership of automobiles with help from various governments.

But that’s long term, big picture stuff. The more immediate issues involve finding ways to ensure public safety, with the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) being extremely critical of how regulators have been handling autonomous vehicle testing and advanced driving aids (ADS). It wants to see more regulation and safety redundancies that don’t allow modern technologies to encourage motorists to tune out. The NTSB has also been highly critical of the marketing language used to sell vehicles with advanced driving aids, suggesting they’re dangerously misleading and fool many customers into believing certain automobiles are capable of self-driving when they are not.

We’re inclined to agree with the NTSB but also hold onto fears that autonomous vehicles will mean the end of driving for enjoyment. If this year has taught us anything, it’s that the government isn’t overly concerned with prioritizing freedoms when it has safety in its sights. Formerly ridiculous concepts like forcibly limiting your speed or prohibiting an AV from taking certain routes now seem entirely plausible. Meanwhile, the industry will be vying for its own desires as it hopes to recoup the colossal financial losses incurred while attempting to develop autonomous cars.

“AVs can enhance roadway safety and increase access to mobility, and that’s why Auto Innovators applauds the Department of Transportation’s continued work to advance this important technology,” John Bozzella, CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, stated this week. “In the coming days, Auto Innovators will release its own AV Policy Roadmap with additional recommendations for policymakers. Both of these announcements demonstrate the forward looking, positive steps being taken to create a regulatory framework to advance and govern this technology.”

The advance notice of proposed rulemaking was submitted to the Federal Register on November 19th, is available online, and worth a read if you have time. Those interested in participating in the regulatory process by giving the government a piece of their mind may go to regulations.gov and follow the online instructions to comment. Makes sure to use docket number NHTSA-2020-0106 to get your message sent to the right people, regardless of whether you’re using a digital or physical format.

Comments can also be faxed (202-493-2251) or mailed to the following address: Docket Management Facility, M-30, U.S. Department of Transportation, West Building, Ground Floor, Room W12-140, 1200 New Jersey Avenue S.E., Washington, D.C. 20590.

[Image: Tesla]

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13 Comments on “NHTSA Begins Regulatory Proceedings for Autonomous Safety, You Can Help...”


  • avatar
    conundrum

    The industry lobby group hard at it, as usual with them. They know best, yesiree, just like that maligned Max8 at America’s only civil airliner manufacturer. It was “good” enough, said Boeing before finally bending to acknowledge their egregious behavior after severe repeated flailings, but not before, not from conscience. No sir, no.

    The automotive industry has invested billions in half-as*ed autonomy, judged only by its poor results so far with crap sensors and software, and by golly, they intend to recoup that money by hook or by crook. Big business can’t be allowed to “fail”! Why would you ever imagine that? Everyone should be being told to step back and have a proper think, and maybe come up with a new approach. But how can that be allowed? Money’s at stake, NOW. The public has a few days to organize its thoughts, but if you think anyone at NHTSA will read all submissions from doubtful private citizens, dream on. The fix is in and only the NTSB stands in the way of glorious foolhardy dreams of return on capital. Silicon Valley will have its way. YOU will have to put up with mediocrity because, hey, they aren’t doing all this low grade engineering for NOTHING, now are they?

    So stand by for the ghost-written advertorial sob stories on how much safer autonomy will be for the dumbed-down masses, Take 25. Stuff cunningly designed to appeal to good-natured folk who know nothing on the subject, but “seems like a good idea to them”, after a full 30 seconds appraisal. Never will they be told they are reading about an idealized autonomy, which NONE of the crap beta versions they can actually buy will realize, being merely farcical toy versions of the ideal in the glossy brochure. Kind of like the F-35, overweight overbudget, over-touted and underperforming at triple the original price.

    The US government is run by big business, regardless of “party” in power. So it takes no genius to work out that whatever policy on anything that gets promulgated on the public, somebody had already figured how to make Big Bucks on it, or the policy wouldn’t have happened in the first place. Small business is doing so well during the virus, isn’t it? You’ve noticed? “What? Can’t hear you!” say the Big Guys. They’re doing to general business nationwide what WalMart used to do appearing at the edge of small towns everywhere, sitting on cheap taxes real estate, and then picking off the independent businesses downtown. A monopoly is a wonderful thing! Friendly regulations for an industry comes next on the list.

    The autonomy selling job is on, no matter the quality of the product. The regulations will reflect the lack of capability of current autonomy but be couched in high-flying glorious terms that will make you sob at its glorious implications, a pinnacle of the age, a miracle. Count on it.

    • 0 avatar
      ToolGuy

      @conundrum, I would like to unironically say that your posts are getting a lot better. (I would upvote this if I could but I can’t.)

    • 0 avatar
      Tele Vision

      Agreed all, as per. The, er, driving force behind this solution to a problem no one has is simply content. Vehicular autonomy means everyone aboard can be on a device and consuming or generating said content. Apple and Alphabet aren’t making cars because they’re really into performance and handling.

    • 0 avatar
      wdburt1

      I was with you until you decided to pitch the proposition that big business runs the government. In truth, it’s big business (including Silicon Valley) + big media + Hollywood. Obviously, these interests are not perfectly aligned, although you wouldn’t know it much of the time.

      All of which is another way of saying that the rest of us get to be bystanders while the Big Boys duke it out. The notion that one vested interest runs the whole thing belongs back there with McCarthy and UFO’s.

      That is not to say that we ought to settle for letting competing vested interests settle their differences. (Ben Franklin: A republic, if you can keep it.) Somewhere in this mess, someone has to speak up for the public. The roads were built by the government largely using tax dollars extracted from all of us. They were sold using national defense arguments and the huge appeal of national mobility. Ever since, the politicians have been giving away chunks of highway capacity to the trucking industry, where they felt it would not be noticed. (Did you feel a little more crowded on the Interstate when the permitted width of trailers increased from 96 to 102 inches about thirty years ago? No one remembers that. It was too subtle to perceive. How about when you see that triple trailer combination weaving in the right lane? What’s it like driving a highway beaten up by heavy trucks that are paying less than a third of the costs they impose?)

      We’re doing the same thing now with autonomous vehicles. We’re reserving for them some precious space on the highways we paid for. And it is a zero sum game.

  • avatar
    Steve Biro

    I look at it this way: It is clear that autonomous driving will only work when vehicles can talk to each other… and with the infrastructure. Just like aviation. But this is a country that can’t even keep its roads paved properly.

    This kind of cart before the horse thinking isn’t new. EVs are about to be forced on us even before the infrastructure is in place for that.

    And yet, as with EVs, the great unseen hand has decided that we’re going to get more and more autonomous technology. And, if it doesn’t work, well… we’ll just add even more nannies to make sure your eyes and hands are where we want them to be at all times.

    Notice that this technology began appearing in vehciles with absolutely no public discussion. Technically, it’s all “voluntary.” But automakers were strong-armed into accepting it behind closed doors – under threat of stronger emissions regulations.

    We all should comment – otherwise we have no right to complain. But this has the feel of a done deal – one that is likely to come with strong liability protections for manufacturers.

    And for those of us who enjoying driving our own cars and do it well? How quaint.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      “It is clear that autonomous driving will only work when vehicles can talk to each other… and with the infrastructure.”

      You can’t depend on VVC. Too many things in the world won’t have communications with vehicles. Things like deer and other wildlife won’t have it. Debris falling from other vehicles or blown by the wind won’t have it either. You could have communications failures as well. VVC would help, but you can’t depend on it.

      • 0 avatar
        Steve Biro

        I understand and agree. The same can be said for aviation. But we’ll probably need VVC to be part of the mix.

        • 0 avatar
          mcs

          @SteveBiro: Some background. My first aviation ground collision avoidance system depended on radar transponders. All of the equipment and of course the aircraft. That was what was spec’d by the FAA. From personal experience, my scariest near-collision on a runway was a deer that appeared suddenly. I knew that the deer would not be equipped with transponders.

          I’m still waiting for up and coming sensor technology to make AV technology more viable. One that’s under development is ground penetrating radar for underground fingerprinting of roadways. A vehicle with a sensor like that can keep you between the lanes even on a snow-covered road. The other is some of my own research into see-around-the-corner technology. I want to try and spot hidden hazards by analyzing reflections and shadows to pick up on unseen hazards. Sensors like this could get us to a point where AV technology would be better than any human.

  • avatar
    Garrett

    There’s an easy solution: liability for accidents while using autonomous driving needs to be shared, or totally assumed, by the company that sold the consumer the product.

    • 0 avatar
      Detroit-X

      100% Agree. To many butt-kissing idiots are in large companies to do the right thing; if you stand up for what’s right, you get punished, if you object too much you get punished. Most automakers #1 priority is to make mistakes someone else’s fault.

      • 0 avatar
        Old_WRX

        Detroit-X,

        ” To many butt-kissing idiots are in large companies to do the right thing”

        But, that’s the way the corporate world is. The chance that that will change is pretty close to nil.

  • avatar
    Firestorm 500

    Total Recall: JohnnyCab.

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