The American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START) Act (S 1885) establishes regulations for the development of highly automated vehicle (HAV) technologies. An HAV is defined by the bill as a motor vehicle “with a gross vehicle weight of 10,000 pounds or less that is equipped with a Level 3, 4, or 5 automated driving system (ADS), as per the SAE International J3016 standard.
The 22 sections included in the AV START Act regulate the testing, commerce, and safety of HAVs by appointing committees, working groups, and expert panels to research related policy, technology, and social issues, establishing reporting requirements for manufacturers, and initiating new consumer education programs. The Act puts in motion research efforts that will identify portions of the existing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that will need to be updated to apply to vehicles driven by automation instead of a human driver. The bill further prohibits state and local governments from regulating the design, construction, or performance standards of ADS and HAV systems and components, but otherwise maintains the jurisdiction of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and states.
Several sections of the bill apply directly to manufacturers of HAV and related technology:
- Manufacturers will be permitted to test ADS and HAV that do not meet the traditional federal vehicle safety standards developed originally for non-autonomous vehicles. Manufacturers who wish to test HAVs must provide information that identifies the vehicle as an HAV, and the test vehicles must be driven by agents or employees of the manufacturer. Test vehicles may not be sold to consumers.
- The Department of Transportation (DOT) can increase the number of vehicles per manufacturer that are exempted from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). The bill increases the maximum number of exemptions from a maximum of 2,500 vehicle exemptions (49 CFR Part 555) per manufacturer to 50,000 vehicles by the first year, 75,000 vehicles by the second year, and 100,000 vehicles by the fifth year, with additional exemptions after the fifth-year subject to further approval. The increase in exemptions reduces the burden of applying to NHTSA on a case-by-case basis for additional exemptions. However, exemptions may only be made for new, innovative features without established regulations and will not be permitted to reduce vehicle occupant safety.
- Manufacturers will be permitted to disable certain driver controls when the vehicle is operating in an automated mode. While manufacturers are currently prohibited from rendering federally mandated vehicle safety controls (e.g., steering wheel and pedals) inoperable by drivers, this exception would allow manufacturers to transfer operability control from the driver to the autonomous vehicle.
- Incentives may be provided to companies who manufacture HAVs in the US.
- Manufacturers will also be required to submit publicly accessible safety evaluation reports to the DOT no later than 90 days before the manufacturer introduces an HAV system or component into commerce. While the reports are mandatory, the manufacture and sale of HAV will not be conditional on the content of the report. Safety evaluation reports must be updated annually and include assessment, testing and validation processes for nine subject areas, including:
- System safety: Engineered safety practices to support reasonable system safety.
- Data recording: Documented processes for testing, validation, and collection of data for recording system malfunctions, degradations, and failures to identify their causes and to facilitate information sharing, knowledge building, and crash reconstruction.
- Cybersecurity: Approaches to guard against vehicle hacking risks and encourage the exchange of information within the industry.
- Human-machine interface: Approaches for communicating information to the driver about automation status, including interfacers for people with disabilities.
- Crashworthiness: Verification that occupants and other road users will be protected in crash situations according to NHTSA crashworthiness standards.
- Documentation of capabilities: Abilities and limitations of the automated driving system.
- Post-crash behavior: Clarification of behaviors of critical systems and sensors following damage from a crash.
- Accounting for applicable laws: Documented plans for how vehicles are programmed to comply with all applicable federal, state, and local traffic laws.
- Automation function: The conditions under which the automated system is intended to function (e.g., infrastructure requirements), object and event sensing capabilities, the fall back behavior in the event of a system malfunction, and performance assessment during testing.
The bill also provides a framework to promote consumer safety that includes the following measures:
- The DOT will be required to establish an HAV Technical Committee no later than 180 days after the enactment of the bill. The Committee will be comprised of fifteen industry experts (representing the states, manufacturers, and safety organizations) who will make recommendations to the DOT related to rulemaking, policy, and guidance as well as HAV performance and safety issues. The Committee will also create working groups to address specific HAV issues, submitting an official report containing rulemaking recommendations to the DOT no later than five years after the creation of the committee. The Committee will be permitted to set up working groups at its discretion; however, it will be required to set up a working group to develop voluntary best practices regarding HAV accessibility for people with disabilities.
- The DOT will establish a working group to create a framework for improved consumer education efforts about ADS and HAV, including at the point of sale. The working group will identify and recommend voluntary educational strategies for manufacturers to adopt.
- The DOT will research traffic safety effects of HAVs, including mixed fleets of HAV and traditional vehicles, by working with state and local governments to identify common defects, identifying the impacts on local law enforcement, and developing new methods for collecting crash data.
- Manufacturers will be required to equip all passenger motor vehicles weighing less than 10,000 pounds with a system that alerts vehicle operators to check rear seating positions, a provision intended to promote child safety.
The bill addresses cybersecurity and its safety threats directly. The DOT would take the following measures to protect the cybersecurity and cyberprivacy of consumers:
- HAV and ADS manufacturers will be required to develop and execute a written plan for identifying and decreasing cybersecurity threats. These plans should be formatted for public release. Manufacturers will be encouraged to exchange information with each other on cybersecurity threats and responses.
- Establish a HAV Data Access Advisory Committee to make recommendations for the ownership and control of information collected by HAV and ADS technology.
- The DOT will develop resources for consumer awareness and education on cybersecurity risks to be made publicly accessible on the NHTSA website. The Act further requires that manufacturers direct consumers to these resources through vehicle manuals or the manufacturer’s website.
- NHTSA will promote privacy rights transparency by creating a database on the NHTSA website that contains information about how personally identifiable information is collected and used by autonomous vehicles.
The bill also requires multiple studies on HAV safety. The DOT's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center will lead a 180-day study to identify FMVSS that reference human drivers and develop alternative language for HAVs. Future rulemaking will be based on the results of the report. The DOT will also conduct a study on HAV implications for transportation infrastructure, mobility, the environment, and fuel consumption, and a study on methods for encouraging domestic manufacture of ADS and HAV technologies.
Finally, the AV START Act will preempt state laws affecting the design, performance, and construction of HAVs. States will also not be allowed to discriminate against operators with disabilities. However, states will still be permitted to regulate HAV sale, distribution, and repair.