U.S. lawmakers revisit regulations for autonomous vehicles

September 1, 2023

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The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) indicated that it plans to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking on automated driving systems (ADS) this fall. Simultaneously, several members of the U.S. House of Representatives are hoping to revitalize long-dormant legislation that would address the safe operation and deployment of autonomous vehicles (AVs).

New AV technology

Self-driving vehicles are one of the main areas of innovation in the automotive industry, but stakeholders have raised concerns that the U.S. is falling behind other nations due in large part to a lack of comprehensive regulations that account for new AV technology. NHTSA has been the driving force behind regulating AVs as Congress remains slow to start with any progress towards passing legislation.

Currently, ADS-equipped vehicles are regulated under the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). These rules were designed for vehicles operated by human drivers and, as such, have certain requirements that would not apply for the driverless AVs. Under Section 30113, NHTSA is able to exempt up to 2,500 AVs per year for road driving, but this low number of exemptions is making it more difficult for NHTSA to collect data for safety purposes and manufacturers to test and improve their vehicles.

NHTSA is now looking to use its authority under Section 30114, which allows the agency to exempt vehicles for various purposes like research and demonstration, to create a new program called the ADS-equipped Vehicle Safety, Transparency, and Evaluation Program (AV STEP).

Data collection

AV STEP would give NHTSA the opportunity to consider applications for deploying ADS-equipped vehicles that are non-compliant with some driving controls and seating configurations that are typically required under the FMVSS. The ultimate goal of AV STEP is to have more AVs on the road to collect more data that will inform research on AV safety and future regulations. NHTSA also recently created the Office of Automation Safety, which will focus on developing and managing exemptions, and also establishing regulations and safety standards related to ADS-equipped vehicles.

As NHTSA takes steps to gather more data and develop modernized regulations for AVs, Congress is slowly working to ease that path with legislation. At a hearing held by the House Subcommittee on Innovation, Data, and Commerce in late July, representatives discussed the proposed Self-Driving Vehicle Legislative Framework, as well as the need for additional data on AV use and clarity around the regulatory roles of federal, state and local governments.

Looking ahead

At the current pace, the automotive industry likely won’t see formal legislation from Congress in 2023. However, NHTSA is making progress with its regulations for AVs and is expected to release additional notices of proposed rulemaking later this year. Stakeholders should follow these developments closely to determine how their operations may be impacted and identify opportunities to take part in the innovation.

As NHTSA develops new regulations for AVs and pays closer attention to the safety risks associated with this technology, manufacturers should be prepared for additional scrutiny and an increased risk of recall. Manufacturers can take steps now to ensure they have a robust process for documenting safety data and reporting incidents. It is also important to assess their quality assurance and safety testing, and evaluate whether any changes need to be made to those processes.

Trusted by the world’s leading brands, Sedgwick brand protection has managed more than 5,000 of the most time-critical and sensitive product recalls in 100+ countries and 50+ languages, over 25 years. To find out more about our experience within the automotive sector, visit our website here.

Tags: Auto, Auto claims, auto solutions, automotive, consumer safety, motor, regulations, United States