Analysis of the USDOT’s Regulatory Review for Self-Driving Cars (Part 1): References to “drivers” in the federal regulations
Editor’s Note: Apologies for the unannounced gap between posts. I have been on parental leave for the past two weeks bonding with my newborn daughter. In lieu of the traditional cartoon, I will be spamming you today with a photo of Julia (see bottom of post). Now, back to AI.
The U.S. Department of Transportation recently released a report “identifying potential barriers and challenges for the certification of automated vehicles” under the current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). Identifying such barriers is essential to the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles because the manufacturer of a new motor vehicle must certify that it complies with the FMVSS.
The FMVSS require American cars and trucks to include numerous operational and safety features, ranging from brake pedals to warning lights to airbags. It also specifies test procedures designed to assess new vehicles’ safety and whether they comply with the FMVSS.
The new USDOT report consists of two components: (1) a review of the FMVSS “to identify which standards include an implicit or explicit reference to a human driver,” which the report’s authors call a driver reference scan; and (2) a review that evaluates the FMVSS against “13 different automated vehicle concepts, ranging from limited levels of automation . . . to highly automated, driverless concepts with innovative vehicle designs,” termed an automated vehicle concepts scan. This post will address the driver reference scan, which dovetails nicely from my previous post on automated vehicles.
As noted in that post, the FMVSS defines a “driver” as “the occupant of a motor vehicle seated immediately behind the steering control system.” It is clear both from this definition and from other regulations that “driver” thus refers to a human driver. (And again, as explained in my previous post, the NHTSA’s recent letter to Google did not change this regulation or redefine “driver” under the FMVSS, media reports to the contrary notwithstanding.) Any FMVSS reference to a “driver” thus presents a regulatory compliance challenge for makers of truly self-driving cars, since such vehicles may not have a human driver–or, in some cases, even a human occupant.