Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Automated Freight and Passenger Vehicles All Covered by New US Department of Transport Policy

Autonomous and Other Advanced Technologies are Relevant to Road Haulage and Logistics
Shipping News Feature
US – As time passes so the speed of change instigated by evolving technologies intrinsically linked to the freight and logistics sectors seems to move ever faster. In a world where drones and airships are mooted as the next big thing the reality is that the changing nature of power trains and the growth of the self driving vehicle are the real stories. We have covered in some detail the coming of autonomous trucks and their future in the road haulage industry and now the US Department of Transportation is issuing Federal policy for automated vehicles, intending to lay a path for the safe testing and deployment of new auto technologies, in vehicles both large and small, and which have enormous potential for improving safety and mobility for American citizens on the road.

The new policy is intended to set a proactive approach to providing safety assurance whilst facilitating innovation through four key parts:

  1. Vehicle performance guidance – Uses a 15-point Safety Assessment to set clear expectations for manufacturers developing and deploying automated vehicle technologies.
  2. Model State Policy – This section presents a clear distinction between Federal and State responsibilities for regulation of highly automated vehicles, and suggests recommended policy areas for states to consider with a goal of generating a consistent national framework for the testing and deployment of highly automated vehicles.
  3. NHTSA’s Current Regulatory Tools – This discussion outlines NHTSA’s current regulatory tools that can be used to ensure the safe development of new technologies, such as interpreting current rules to allow for greater flexibility in design and providing limited exemptions to allow for testing of non-traditional vehicle designs in a more timely fashion.
  4. Modern Regulatory Tools – This discussion identifies new regulatory tools and statutory authorities that policymakers may consider in the future to aid the safe and efficient deployment of new lifesaving technologies.

Of course in some respects this is shutting the stable door after the horse has trotted away down the road, and whilst the primary focus of the policy is on highly automated vehicles, or those in which the vehicle can take full control of the driving task in at least some circumstances, some portions of the policy also apply to lower levels of automation, including some of the driver-assistance systems already being deployed by automakers today.

As usual the conundrum of state law versus federal regulations will doubtless have the potential to provide an unwanted minefield for the various administrators but the Model State Policy delineates the Federal and State roles for the regulation of the new technologies as part of an effort to build a consistent national framework of laws to govern self-driving vehicles and will hopefully negate this. The overwhelming view of those consulted however seems to be not only that this development is welcome and necessary but that the actual appearance of vehicles requiring less human control is a good thing, a view almost inconceivable until relatively recently. Colleen Sheehey-Church, National President, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) commented:

”MADD is proud to support the Department as it releases its policy on automated vehicles because we see a future where self-driving cars will save thousands of lives on our roads. A self-driving car can’t get drunk. A self-driving car can’t get distracted. And a self-driving car will follow the traffic laws and prioritize safety for pedestrians and bicyclists.”

The MADD President's comments were echoed by others including Henry Claypool, Policy Director, Community Living Policy Center at the University of California in San Francisco, who said:

“Automated vehicles hold enormous potential to improve the lives of millions of American like me who because of a disability, age, or other conditions are not able to enjoy easy access to personal transportation. I applaud the department’s commitment to making sure the benefits of automated vehicles will be shared by all.”

One extra benefit which has already surfaced through this busy time of experimentation and innovation in the field is the fuel saving potential which some of the technologies have and this point was picked up on by Gen. James T. Conway (Ret.), 34th Commandant of the Marine Corps and Co-Chair of SAFE’s Energy Security Leadership Council, he said:

“Through my decades of service in the US Marine Corps, I have witnessed first-hand the staggering burden in both resources and lives that oil dependence places on our military. If deployed properly, driverless cars will significantly increase quality of life for all Americans through improved safety and accessibility of transportation, and will also reduce our over-dependence on petroleum. The Energy Security Leadership Council looks forward to reviewing NHTSA’s recommendations, which are largely aligned with those we put forth in our National Strategy for Energy Security, to enable an ‘innovation-first’ approach that advances this critical technology.”

Indeed, moving beyond the traditional US auto regulation approach of reactive, post-sale enforcement of safety standards, the policy is a proactive measure. A March 2016 study by DOT’s Volpe notes that current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards do not directly address automated vehicle technologies. Those standards can take many years to develop and are traditionally only put into force after new technologies have made significant market penetration. Instead, the automated vehicle policy envisions greater transparency as DOT works with manufacturers to ensure that safety is appropriately addressed on the front-end of development. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx observed:

“New technologies developed in the 20th century, like seat belts and air bags, were once controversial but have now saved hundreds of thousands of American lives. This is the first in a series of proactive approaches, including the release of a rule on Vehicle to Vehicle communications, which will bring lifesaving technologies to the roads safely and quickly while leaving innovators to dream up new safety solutions.

“Public input has been essential to getting this right. There has been a strong call from state and local governments, industry, safety experts, mobility advocates, and average Americans to establish a clear policy for the deployment of automated vehicles on our roads. There are huge upsides and significant challenges that come with automated vehicle technology, and we will continue the conversation with the public over the coming months and years as this technology develops.

“Automated vehicles have the potential to save thousands of lives, driving the single biggest leap in road safety that our country has ever taken. This policy is an unprecedented step by the federal government to harness the benefits of transformative technology by providing a framework for how to do it safely.”

The Federal Automated Vehicle Policy is a product of significant public input and stakeholder discussions, including two open public meetings this year and an open public docket for comments. The Department is also soliciting additional public comments for the next 60 days on the policy which can be accessed here. Additionally, through a series of next steps and in response to public comments, the DOT intends to update the policy annually. A 50 minute video of the DOT presentation of the Policy is viewable here.

Finally one chilling fact regarding safety on the road from National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Administrator Dr Mark Rosekind who pointed out:

“Ninety-four percent of crashes on US roadways are caused by a human choice or error. We are moving forward on the safe deployment of automated technologies because of the enormous promise they hold to address the overwhelming majority of crashes and save lives.”

Photo: Fiction evolves into fact – Johnny Cabs, the robot car service from Total Recall.