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Latest DOT autonomy guidelines take a hatchet to red tape

Don't mistake this for something enforceable -- it's merely a set of guidelines.


About one year ago, the Obama administration unveiled a set of guidelines for the development and deployment of self-driving cars. But since we've got a whole new band in the White House now, they went and rewrote the whole thing from scratch.

The Trump administration unveiled its guidelines for self-driving vehicles on Tuesday. The policy, called "Automated Driving System 2.0: A Vision for Safety," is a set of non-binding requests to manufacturers and developers of advanced driver assistance systems.

Specifically, the guidelines target semi-autonomous and autonomous systems at SAE Level 3 and above. Level 3 is conditional automation, where a driver is still required as a fallback with some advance notice. Level 4 and 5 are where the vehicle all but takes over -- Level 4 permits human driving in certain modes or under specific conditions, while Level 5 is entirely human-free.

This is the image on the cover of the ADS 2.0 document. Perhaps they should have hired a better designer.

US Department of Transportation

As with the SELF DRIVE Act that passed a US House vote last week, the guidelines help delineate responsibilities between the feds and the states. Safety, design and public education remain with the federal government, while the states cover things like inspections, licensing and insurance.

"[The Department of Transportation] strongly encourages States to allow DOT alone to regulate the safety design and performance aspects of ADS technology," the guidelines state.

In keeping with the administration's desire to cut back on regulatory red tape, the new guidelines pared down some of the best practices asked of state officials. It also eliminated the Obama administration's request for manufacturers to submit a 15-point "safety assessment."

Not that it really matters, because none of this is mandatory -- it's entirely voluntary, with no enforcement behind it. The feds claim this is because the pace of self-driving car development is moving so fast, any enforcement could be out of date before it's even implemented.

To that end, the federal government won't stop with the ADS 2.0 guidelines. It's already planning for ADS 3.0, and it will issue changes to its policies as technology moves forward.