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NHTSA crosses its fingers with autonomous vehicle guidance to states

Friday, December 2, 2016 - 09:00
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Its statement said: "The policy provides a consistent and standardized approach to regulating highly automated vehicles while simultaneously honoring the flexibility and autonomy of each individual state. Since it was developed in consultation with the AAMVA Autonomous Vehicles Working Group, we hope states will follow the tenets of the policy when crafting public policy that balances promoting innovation with the regulatory responsibility to uphold public safety."

The technology challenges will be substantial, and there are those who believe the guidance does not do nearly enough to ease compliance burdens for the states or the manufacturers.

"The policy’s vague description of a framework for developing and verifying complex, safety critical software is inadequate," says David Gelperin, Chief Technology Officer & President of ClearSpecs Enterprise. He argues that the safety options the auto industry has already developed have not posed serious software challenges, options such as self-parking, adaptive cruise control and forward collision warning, to name a few.

But integrating those features with new ones required by autonomous vehicles – the guidance refers to these as Object and Event Detection and Response – will be a complex challenge. These involve developing software that, for example, detects and responds to speed limit changes and speed advisories; performs high-speed merges, moves out of the travel lane and parks, detects and responds to encroaching oncoming vehicles.

Gelperin said that the likelihood of accidents involving autonomous vehicles is significantly increased by the fact that neither automobile manufacturers nor NHTSA have experience developing, verifying, and regulating software of this complexity. "Vague references to standards and best practices won’t help the inexperienced," he says, adding that NHTSA should require compliance with specific standards, such as ISO 26262, MIL STD 882E, and RTCA DO-176C.

The fact sheet issued by the White House on the guidance attempts to buttress the Obama administration's bona fides on autonomous vehicles by referring to the $4 billion investment in automated vehicle deployment, which was included in his fiscal 2017 budget request. Congress ignored that request. It remains to be seen whether the states are any more receptive to this new guidance.


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