Auto2x Automotive Consultancy

USA’s updated guidance on Autonomous Vehicles fails to address the key issues

  • Deployment of higher levels of autonomy, SAE Level 3-5, is subject to national regulatory approval with inherent differences in the way regulation works in the USA versus Europe and China;
  • USA’s approach to Autonomous Driving is key for harmonisation of safe and secure ADS testing and deployment but USA seems to follow a standalone policy to give domestic stakeholders an advantage;
  • Although USA’s non-binding guidelines do not impede deployment of L3-4, which promises to reduce road deaths and road stress, they raise concerns over enforcement of safety standards and harmonisation across states;
  • New Trump administration has delayed progress in key cybersecurity and V2V bills while creating further uncertainty on their final implementation.


Status of AV law in the U.S, Q3-2017 / Source:

NHTSA’s updated guidance does not impede deployment by choosing non-binding guidelines instead of a mandate

12th September, saw the USDOT updating its voluntary guidelines for Autonomous Driving Systems, defined as SAE Level 3-5 systems, by releasing the “AUTOMATED DRIVING SYSTEMS- A Vision for Safety version 2”. The new guidance is an update of the voluntary guidelines for HAVS based on comments received on the Federal Autonomous Vehicle Policy’s (Sep’2016).

The first section of the guidance, titled “Voluntary Guidance” contains 12 priority safety design elements which entities are encouraged to consider when designing ADSs. These elements comprise:

  1. System safety
  2. Operational Design Domain
  3. Object and event detection response
  4. Fall back (minimal risk condition)
  5. Validation methods 
  6. HMI
  7. Vehicle cybersecurity
  8. crashworthiness
  9. Post-crash behaviour
  10. Data recording
  11. Consumer education and training
  12. Federal, State and Local laws

Additionally, the agency recommends that entities have a self-documented process for assessment, testing, and validation of the various elements.

A key point is that NHTSA still encourages manufacturers to submit “Voluntary Safety Self-Assessments” (12-point list) demonstrating approaches for safe ADS testing and deployment, but it does not require them.

The purpose of this Voluntary Guidance is to help designers of ADSs analyse, identify, and resolve safety considerations prior to deployment using their own, industry, and other best practices

USDOT, ADSv2 (Sep’17)


Source: Audi

The second section of the guidance, the “Technical Assistance to States” clarifies the role of the Federal government and also includes best practices for Legislatures and State Highway Safety Officials.

USA’s updated guidance removes certain obstacles for carmakers

Here are the most significant changes between the new guidance (ADSv2) and the old one (FAVP)

  1. Most of the Auto Alliance’s recommendations/comments on the FAVP made it to the ADSv2. In detail, 3 items were removed from the FAVP’s 15-point Vehicle Performance Guidance: Privacy and data sharing, Registration & Certification and Ethical Considerations;
  2. Another key point removed is the FAVP’s willingness to shift from its current regulatory regime of “self-certification post-fitment” to a ‘’Pre-market approval of HAVs” which has caused significant concern;
  3. The new guidance’s second section incorporates common safety-related components and significant elements regarding ADSs that States should consider incorporating in legislation. NHTSA’s authority remains on design, construction and performance of ADSs;
  4. Finally, “NHTSA strongly encourages States not to codify this Voluntary Guidance as a legal requirement for any phases of development, testing, or deployment of ADSs. Allowing NHTSA alone to regulate the safety design and performance aspects of ADS technology will help avoid conflicting Federal and State laws and regulations that could impede deployment”.

But it fails to address the key concerns

  1. Guidelines have immediate effect against what might be a lengthy rulemaking process but NHTSA’s guidance raises concerns over enforcement of safety and security standards. Enforcement of voluntary guidelines for safe testing and deployment is weaker than a rulemaking procedure and without the latter’s objectivity, such as notice and comment, due process or judicial review. 
  2. It lacks clear legal guidance for ADS manufacturers on performance metrics, potential mandate and updatability. NHTSA’s own FAPV noted that “the absence of established metrics could make it more difficult for OEMs to anticipate the Agency’s evaluation and conclusions regarding the safety of their vehicles’ performance. Another key issue is whether the ODD’s data truly represent real-world conditions.
  3. Harmonisation across states is a key challenge for the USA. It requires state collaboration which has been proven difficult. The SELF DRIVE Act and the LEAD’R Act are positive steps in this direction but both are in early stages.
  4. The Trump’s administration creates uncertainty. This has been demonstrated by the slow progress with Cyber security regulation, i.e. SPY Act as well as FMVSS 150: V2V communication.

CADILLAC supercruise

Cadillac’s SuperCruise is a SAE Level 2 feature enabling hands-off-the-steering wheel in highways but requires constant monitoring / Source: Cadillac

Still significant opportunities exist in the USA from its regulatory approach

While European carmakers, mostly German, lead the SAE level 2 in terms of deployment and sales volume, L3 deployment in Europe is currently restricted by the regulatory and legal framework.

The USA presents a favourable environment for testing whereas deployment is subject to both federal and state rules, which are less restrictive than in Europe, Japan and China. USA’s progressive regulatory stance on deployment of higher levels of technology, coupled with significant investment from tech giants which focus on AD platforms, software and AI can give them an edge provided that the key issues of harmonisation and cybersecurity are adequately addressed.

Read more

For an in-depth analysis of the Autonomous Driving regulation in major car markets and how it will affect the AD roadmap of leading carmakers read our report Regulatory guide to Autonomous Driving, Automotive Cyber Security & V2X.

For more information on this report, including sample pages and full Table of Contents, please contact us on (+44) (0)20 3286 4562 or using Contact us form