1. Introduction

The autonomous motor vehicle industry is growing exponentially.  The automotive industry, manufacturers and governments are continuing to refine the development and implementation of autonomous motor vehicles to maximise efficiency and safety.  While these technological advancements will offer numerous benefits, they will also expose manufacturers, distributors, and insurers to new and potentially greater product liability risks.  It is likely that these advancements will reshape motor vehicle liability jurisprudence and the insurance industry.  Moreover, any problems with the operation of autonomous motor vehicles will be subjected to increased public and media scrutiny.  Accordingly, it is vital to ensure that the implementation of autonomous motor vehicles is efficient, safe, and as seamless as possible.  This chapter discusses the regulation, innovation, risk, and implementation of autonomous motor vehicles.

Current iterations of motor vehicles continue to be increasingly safer than their predecessors.  Even with the incorporation of seat belts, airbags, mirrors, indicator lights, all-wheel drive, anti-lock brakes, children’s car seats, Bluetooth, power steering, and other features that now are taken for granted, there are still a large number of motor vehicle accidents every year.  In 2017, motor vehicle accidents were responsible for the deaths of 37,133 people in the United States.  See Automated Vehicles 3.0 – Preparing for the Future of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (October 2018) (https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/policy-initiatives/automated-vehicles/320711/preparing-future-transportation-automated-vehicle-30.pdf).  Of all serious motor vehicle crashes, 94 per cent involve driver-related factors, such as impaired driving, distraction, and speeding or illegal manoeuvres.  See Automated Vehicles 3.0 – Preparing for the Future of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (October 2018) (https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/policy-initiatives/automated-vehicles/320711/preparing-future-transportation-automated-vehicle-30.pdf).   In 2017, nearly 11,000 fatalities involved drinking and driving.  See Automated Vehicles 3.0 – Preparing for the Future of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (October 2018) (https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/policy-initiatives/automated-vehicles/320711/preparing-future-transportation-automated-vehicle-30.pdf).  Speeding was a factor in nearly 10,000 highway fatalities.  Nearly 3,500 fatal crashes involve distracted drivers.  5,977 pedestrians were killed by motor vehicles in 2017.  See Automated Vehicles 3.0 – Preparing for the Future of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (October 2018) (https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/policy-initiatives/automated-vehicles/320711/preparing-future-transportation-automated-vehicle-30.pdf). 

Autonomous vehicles that accurately detect, recognise, anticipate, and respond to the movements of all transportation users can lead to breakthrough gains in transportation safety.  Unlike human drivers, autonomous motor vehicles are not prone to distraction, fatigue, or impaired driving, which contribute to a significant portion of transportation fatalities.  Autonomous motor vehicle technologies that are integrated carefully into motor vehicles can help vehicle operators detect and avoid other vehicles, motorcyclists, pedestrians, bicyclists, and other vulnerable users on roadways, thereby increasing safety across the transportation system.  Fully realising the life-saving potential of autonomous motor vehicles, however, will require careful risk management as new technologies are introduced and adopted across the transportation system.

2. Legislative Issues

Federal and State Framework

The traditional roles of the federal government, state, and local governments, and private industry are theoretically well-suited for addressing autonomous motor vehicles.  The federal government is responsible for regulating the safety performance of vehicles and vehicle equipment, and commercial operation in interstate commerce.  States and local governments regulate the licensing of drivers, establishing rules of the road, and formulating policy in tort liability and insurance.  Private industry is the primary source of transportation research investment and commercial technology development. 

The United States’ unique legal and legislative framework, however, is still an issue that the full implementation of autonomous motor vehicles needs to navigate.  The U.S. system comprises 50 states, each with individual laws, and governed in certain circumstances by federal law.  States’ laws are often inconsistent with each other and/or contradictory.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) realised that it is problematic for international vehicle manufacturers to be governed by disparate regulations and published a set of guidelines in 2016, and revised sets in 2017 and 2018.  NHTSA hopes that they bring more uniformity to the manufacture of autonomous vehicles and has stated that it will liaise with foreign agencies to foster development and innovation. 

Some state governments have enacted permissive regulations for autonomous motor vehicles to encourage technology and motor vehicle companies to create testing programmes within their states.  Since 2012, at least 41 states and Washington, D.C. have considered legislation related to autonomous motor vehicles.  Twenty-nine states – Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Washington and Wisconsin – and Washington D.C. have enacted legislation related to autonomous motor vehicles.  See Autonomous Vehicles – Self-Driving Vehicles Enacted Legislation, National Conference of State Legislatures (March 19, 2019) (http://www.ncsl.org/research/transportation/autonomous-vehicles-self-driving-vehicles-enacted-legislation.aspx).  Moreover, governors in Arizona, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, Washington, and Wisconsin have issued executive orders related to autonomous motor vehicles.  These laws vary in scope from comparatively wide-open schemes in Arizona to stricter laws in Nevada, a state that requires two operators in an autonomous vehicle during a test on public roads. 

NHTSA – Automated Vehicles 3.0 – Preparing for the Future of Transportation

In October 2018, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) released a new version of its guidance for autonomous motor vehicles in the United States.  See Automated Vehicles 3.0 – Preparing for the Future of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (October 2018) (https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/policy-initiatives/automated-vehicles/320711/preparing-future-transportation-automated-vehicle-30.pdf).  The Federal guidance for autonomous motor vehicles advances the U.S. Department of Transportation’s commitment to supporting the safe integration of automation into the broad multimodal surface transportation system.  “Preparing for the Future of Transportation 3.0” builds upon, but does not replace, the voluntary guidance provided by the U.S. Department of Transportation in “Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety”.  See Automated Driving Systems – A Vision for Safety 2.0, U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (September 2017) (https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/13069a-ads2.0_090617_v9a_tag.pdf).  In “A Vision for Safety 2.0”, Elaine Chao, the Secretary of the Department of Transportation (“DOT”), noted five times in her one page executive summary that it was only “voluntary guidance”. 

“A Vision for Safety 2.0” called for industry, state and local governments, safety and mobility advocates, and the public to assist with the deployment of autonomous motor vehicles and technologies.  The DOT notes that the new policy builds on the previous policy and incorporates feedback received through public comments and congressional hearings.  The DOT states that the new policy “paves the way for the safe deployment of advanced driver assistance technologies by providing voluntary guidance that encourages best practices and prioritises safety”.  See U.S. DOT releases new Automated Driving Systems guidance, United States Department of Transportation – NHTSA, (September 12, 2017) (https://www.nhtsa.gov/press-releases/us-dot-releases-new-automated-driving-systems-guidance). 

“Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0” incorporates the results of stakeholder engagement to provide updated voluntary guidance and policy considerations for a range of industry sectors, including manufacturers, technology developers, infrastructure owners and operators, commercial motor carriers, bus transit, and state and local governments. 

The guidance supports the safe development of autonomous motor vehicles by:

  • Affirming the approach outlined in A Vision for Safety 2.0 and encourages automated driving system developers to make their Voluntary Self-Assessments public to increase transparency and confidence in the technology.
  • Provides considerations and best practices for state and local governments to support the safe and effective testing and operation of automation technologies.
  • Supports the development of voluntary technical standards and approaches as an effective non-regulatory means to advance the integration of automation technologies into the transportation system.
  • Describes an illustrative framework of safety risk management states along the path to full commercial integration of automated vehicles.  This framework promotes the benefits of safe deployment while managing risk and provides clarity to the public regarding the distinctions between various stages of testing and full deployment.
  • Reducing policy uncertainty and clarifying roles.
  • Outlining a process for working with DOT as technology evolves.

The new guidance provides several updates to the DOT’s initiatives relating to autonomous motor vehicles by:

  • Stating that the DOT will interpret and adapt the definitions of “driver” and “operator” as appropriate to recognise that such terms do not refer exclusively to a human, but may include an automated system.
  • Recognising that given the rapid increase in automated vehicle testing activities in many locations, there is no need for DOT to favour particular locations or to pick winners and losers.  Therefore, the DOT no longer recognises the designations of 10 Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds.
  • Urging states and localities to work to remove barriers – such as unnecessary and incompatible regulations – to autonomous vehicle technologies and to support interoperability. 
  • Affirming DOT’s authority to establish motor vehicle safety standards that allow for innovative autonomous vehicle designs – such as vehicles without steering wheels, pedals, or mirrors – and notes that such an approach may require a more fundamental revamping of the NHTSA approach to safety standards for application to autonomous vehicles. 
  • Reaffirming DOT’s reliance on a self-certification approach, rather than type approval, as the way to balance and promote safety and innovation.
  • Clarifying that rather than requiring a one-size-fits-all approach, the Federal Transit Administration will provide transit agencies with tailored technical assistance as they develop an appropriate safety management system approach to ensuring safe testing and deployment of automated transit bus systems. 
  • Announcing a study of the workforce impacts of autonomous motor vehicles, in collaboration with DOT, U.S. Department of Labor, U.S. Department of Commerce, and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

“Preparing for the Future of Transportation: Automated Vehicles 3.0” also announced several rulemakings and other actions being taken in the future by the DOT’s operating administrations, including:

  1. The NHTSA will request public comment on a proposal to streamline and modernise the procedures it will follow when processing and deciding exemption petitions.
  2. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration will initiate an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to address automated vehicles, particularly to identify regulatory gaps, including in the areas of inspection, repair, and maintenance for autonomous driving systems.
  3. The Federal Highway Administration plans to update the 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, taking into consideration new connected and automated vehicle technologies.
  4. The Federal Railroad Administration is initiating research to develop and demonstrate a concept of operations, including system requirements, for the use of automated and connected vehicles to improve safety of highway-rail crossings. 
  5. The Maritime Administration and FMCSA are evaluating the regulatory and economic feasibility of using automated truck queueing as a technology solution to truck staging, access, and parking issues at ports.
  6. The Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Administration is researching the ability to enable the digital transmission of information to first responders before they arrive at an incident that involves hazardous materials.
  7. The Federal Transit Administration has published a five-year research plan on automating bus transit.

In a notable part of its most recent guidance, the DOT stated that through NHTSA, it intends to reconsider the necessity and appropriateness of its current safety standards as applied to autonomous motor vehicles.  See Automated Vehicles 3.0 – Preparing for the Future of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (October 2018) (https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/policy-initiatives/automated-vehicles/320711/preparing-future-transportation-automated-vehicle-30.pdf).  NHTSA is considering changes to particular safety standards to accommodate autonomous motor vehicle technologies and the possibility of setting exceptions to certain standards – that are relevant only when human drivers are present – or autonomous motor vehicles.  Going forward, NHTSA may also consider a more fundamental revamping of its approach to safety standards for application to autonomous motor vehicles.  See Automated Vehicles 3.0 – Preparing for the Future of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (October 2018) (https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/policy-initiatives/automated-vehicles/320711/preparing-future-transportation-automated-vehicle-30.pdf).  The DOT believes that reliance on a self-certification approach, instead of type approval, more appropriately balances and promotes safety and innovation.  See Automated Vehicles 3.0 – Preparing for the Future of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (October 2018) (https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/policy-initiatives/automated-vehicles/320711/preparing-future-transportation-automated-vehicle-30.pdf).  Notably, the DOT notes that it “will continue to advance this approach with the international community”.  See Automated Vehicles 3.0 – Preparing for the Future of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (October 2018) (https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/policy-initiatives/automated-vehicles/320711/preparing-future-transportation-automated-vehicle-30.pdf).

NHTSA’s current statutory authority to establish motor vehicle safety standards is sufficiently flexible to accommodate the design and performance of different autonomous motor vehicle concepts in new vehicle configurations.  NHTSA correctly recognises that the accelerating pace of technological change, especially in the development of software used in autonomous motor vehicles, likely requires a new approach to the formulation of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.  The pace of innovation in autonomous motor vehicle technologies is incompatible with lengthy rulemaking proceedings and highly prescriptive and feature-specific or design-specific safety standards.  Future motor vehicle safety standards will arguably need to be more flexible and responsive, technology-neutral, and performance-oriented to accommodate rapid technological innovation.  They may incorporate simpler and more general requirements designed to validate that an autonomous motor vehicle can safely navigate the real-world roadway environment, including unpredictable hazards, obstacles, and interactions with other vehicles and pedestrians who may not always adhere to the traffic laws or follow expected patterns of behaviour.

3. Best Practices for State and Local Governments

State and local governments hold clearly defined roles in ensuring the safety and mobility of road users in their jurisdictions.  They are responsible for licensing human drivers, registering motor vehicles, enacting and enforcing traffic laws, conducting safety inspections, and regulating motor vehicle insurance and liability.  They are also responsible for planning, building, managing, and operating transit and the roadway infrastructure.  Many of those roles may not change significantly with the deployment of autonomous motor vehicles.  There are many ways these governments can prepare for automated vehicles.  They can review laws and regulations that may create barriers to testing and deploying autonomous motor vehicles.  They can also adapt policies and procedures, such as licensing and registration, to account for autonomous motor vehicles.  State and local governments can also assess infrastructure elements, such as road markings and signage, so that they are conducive to the operation of autonomous motor vehicles.  They can provide guidance, information, and training to prepare the transportation workforce and the general public. 

State legislatures should engage the DOT on legislative technical assistance.  Unnecessary or overly prescriptive state requirements could create unintended barriers for the testing, deployment, and operations of advanced vehicle safety technologies.  They should also adopt terminology defined through voluntary technical standards.  State legislatures should use terminology already being developed through voluntary, consensus-based, technical standards. 

States should assess roadway readiness for autonomous motor vehicles.  These assessments could help infrastructure for autonomous motor vehicles, while improving safety for drivers in motor vehicles that do not currently have autonomous features.  Autonomous motor vehicle developers are designing their technologies with the assumption that these technologies will need to function with existing infrastructure.  There is general agreement that greater uniformity and quality of road markings, signage, and pavement condition would be beneficial for both human drivers and autonomous motor vehicles.

States should also consider minimum requirements for test drivers who operate test vehicles at different automation levels.  States should coordinate and collaborate with a broad and diverse set of stakeholders when developing and defining jurisdictional guidelines for safe testing and deployment of autonomous motor vehicles.

Infrastructure owners and operators should: support safe testing and operations of autonomous motor vehicles on public roadways; learn from testing and pilots to support highway system readiness; and identify data and opportunities to exchange data. 

Local governments control a substantial part of the United States’ roads and parking infrastructure.  They also have substantial control and/or influence over land use via zoning and permitting.  In the process of implementing the use of autonomous motor vehicles, local governments should: facilitate safe testing and operation of autonomous motor vehicles on local streets; understand the opportunities that autonomous motor vehicles provide; consider how land use, including curb space and parking spaces will be affected; and engage with citizens regarding the implementation of autonomous motor vehicles.

States and local governments must similarly be concerned with prioritising digital infrastructure and cyber security.  To mitigate against potential cyber security threats, state and local governments should have an effective and flexible security programme in place to assess and manage risk, including evaluating technology, key facilities, engaged personnel, and security processes. 

4. Private Sector

In Automated Vehicles 3.0 – Preparing for the Future of Transportation, the DOT places a lot of responsibility for the innovation and implementation of autonomous motor vehicles with the private sector.  Accordingly, the private sector is critical to advancing the development, testing, and commercialisation of autonomous motor vehicles.  In addition to developing and commercialising automation technology, the private sector also should play a critical role in promoting consumer acceptance in two distinct ways.  First, companies developing and deploying automation technology need to be transparent about vehicle safety performance.  Second, companies should engage with consumers through public education campaigns.  The exchange of information between the public and private sector is also critical for helping policymakers understand the capabilities and limitations of these new technologies, while ensuring that the private sector understands the priorities of policymakers and the issues they face.

A Vision for Safety 2.0 provided voluntary guidance to stakeholders regarding the design, testing, and safe deployment of autonomous motor vehicles.  It identified 12 safety elements that autonomous motor vehicles should consider when developing and testing their technologies: 1) system safety; 2) operational design domain; 3) object and event detection and response; 4) fallback (minimal risk condition); 5) validation methods; 6) human machine interface; 7) vehicle cyber security; 8) crashworthiness; 9) post-crash automated driving system behaviour; 10) data recording; 11) consumer education and training; and 12) federal, state, and local laws.  See Automated Driving Systems – A Vision for Safety 2.0, U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (September 2017) (https://www.nhtsa.gov/sites/nhtsa.dot.gov/files/documents/13069a-ads2.0_090617_v9a_tag.pdf).  A Vision for Safety 2.0 encouraged private sector companies to submit Voluntary Safety Self-Assessments (VSSA) to the DOT.  The VSSAs are intended to demonstrate to the public that entities are considering the safety aspects of autonomous motor vehicles and communicating and collaborating with the DOT.  They are also meant to encourage the self-establishment of industry norms and build public trust.  The DOT encourages entities to make their VSSAs public to promote transparency and to demonstrate that safety considerations are built into the autonomous motor vehicles’ designs and also tested on roads.  Following the guidance in A Vision for Safety 2.0,  the following companies have voluntarily shared their VSSAs with the DOT: Apple; AutoX; Ford; GM; Mercedes Benz; Navya; Nuro; Nvidia; Starsky Robotics; Uber; Waymo; and Zoox.  See https://www.nhtsa.gov/automated-driving-systems/voluntary-safety-self-assessment.

Risk Management Factors for Manufacturers to Consider

Any problems with the operation and/or use of an autonomous motor vehicle would be a setback to adoption of the technology.  The public and media coverage will likely be extensive as technology evolves from experimental to a consumer product.  Therefore, from a risk management perspective, manufacturers should consider, inter alia:

  1. creating simple and conclusive schemes to record when the driver overrides the autonomous motor vehicle computer;
  2. reputational risk insurance coverage as media focus on autonomous technology grows;
  3. a disabling function as a response to any attempts to alter or enhance the software;
  4. requiring hold harmless, defence, indemnification, and additional insured language on all contracts with downstream vendors and sub-contractors;
  5. clearly defining maintenance procedures to be followed by the operator.  If the operating system detects a problem that is not addressed by the owner, it should disable autonomous functionality to prevent potential loss;
  6. considering all possible surface transportation conditions and different road landscapes;
  7. working with all potential user groups to incorporate universal design principles;
  8. anticipating human factors and driver engagement issues;
  9. contributing to the development of voluntary, consensus-based, and performance-oriented technical standards;
  10. adopting cyber security best practices;
  11. delineating which entities/vendors/component part manufacturers own proprietary information, data, liability, risk, and revenue in the manufacturing and design process; and
  12. preventing the moral hazard that arises when the operator has little or no exposure for a loss by developing an insurance product that includes both the manufacturer and the operator on the policy in order to align the financial interests of the operator and the autonomous motor vehicle manufacturer.

5. Best Practices for Private Entities Implementing Autonomous Motor Vehicles

In addition to meeting any regulatory or statutory requirements, the DOT envisions that entities testing and eventually deploying autonomous motor vehicles will employ a mixture of industry best practices, consensus standards, and voluntary guidance to manage safety risks along the different stages of technology development.  See Automated Vehicles 3.0 – Preparing for the Future of Transportation, U.S. Department of Transportation and NHTSA (October 2018) (https://www.transportation.gov/sites/dot.gov/files/docs/policy-initiatives/automated-vehicles/320711/preparing-future-transportation-automated-vehicle-30.pdf)

Collaboration will be needed among manufacturers, technology developers, infrastructure owners and operators, and relevant government agencies to establish protocols that will help to advance safe operations in these testing environments.

Development and Early Stage Road Testing

Development and early stage road testing is the first safety risk management stage in the implementation of autonomous motor vehicles.  Significant engineering and safety analysis are performed prior to on-road testing with a prototype autonomous motor vehicle to understand safety risks and implement mitigation strategies.  The primary purpose of this stage is to further develop the technology (software and hardware).  There are many existing industry standards that guide general technology development.  This stage can be characterised by these general characteristics:

  • The system would generally be characterised as a prototype that already passed laboratory and/or closed-course testing.  The hardware and the vehicle platform may comprise development or rapid prototyping-level equipment.
  • Autonomous motor vehicle use cases and associated autonomous functions are identified and implemented, and requisite software validation and verification are performed in controlled environments prior to this stage.  The primary purpose of this stage of road testing is to validate the completeness of use cases and to verify that implemented software can perform associated functions.
  • Controlled environment (track, simulation, etc.) testing and software development are continuing alongside autonomous motor vehicle prototype road testing.  Known use cases are being tested in controlled environments and new use cases identified in road testing are being evaluated and stored.
  • Development of use cases could include initial assessments of a broad range of roadway characteristics (e.g., lane markings, signage) and operational scenarios (e.g., work zones, road weather) to inform autonomous motor vehicle performance in the roadway environment.
  • Additional software development is taking place in failure handling, crash imminent scenario handling, and edge case handling.
  • Safety drivers serve as the main risk mitigation mechanism at this stage.  Safety-driver vigilance and skills are critical to ensuring safety of road testing and identifying new scenarios of interest.
  • Some safety items (such as cyber security and human-machine interface) may be addressed in alternative ways when compared to production systems.
  • Usually, in addition to a safety driver, an employee engaged in the autonomous motor vehicle function/software development track is also present in the vehicle.  Software changes can happen frequently (both for safety-critical issues and other reasons) but are tracked and periodically harmonised.
  • Members of the public are not in autonomous motor vehicle prototype vehicles during early stage road testing.

It is important to note that the stage of testing and deployment of an autonomous motor vehicle in one facet does not adequately represent the maturity of all autonomous motor vehicle development activities an entity may be pursuing.  For example, an entity may be at a “limited deployment stage” in one specific area giving limited rides to members of the public (e.g., daytime-only, less than 35 miles per hour, no precipitation, on a few streets in a metropolitan area).  However, simultaneously that same entity may be developing its technologies to advance its autonomous motor vehicle capabilities and expand its capabilities elsewhere (e.g., to include nighttime, higher speeds, precipitation, or larger or different geographical areas).

Expanded Autonomous Motor Vehicle Testing

Once the development progresses and specifications and software components are validated to be generally complete, software handling of non-nominal cases is integrated into an autonomous motor vehicle.  The primary purpose of this stage of testing is to build statistical confidence in matured software and hardware within the intended operational environment and observe system failures, safety driver subjective feedback, and execution of fail-safe/fail-operational system behaviours. This stage can be characterised by these general attributes:

  • The autonomous motor vehicle has matured both in terms of hardware and software.  Information necessary to establish a safety self-assessment should be available and reasonably stable.
  • Targeted operational design domain is more clearly identified and near fully specified.  This could include an understanding of how the autonomous motor vehicle interprets the standard roadway environment, such as lane markings, signage, varying traffic laws, dynamic roadway conditions, and other users.
  • The functional safety approach has been carried out; safety goals are identified and risk management controls implemented.
  • Autonomous motor vehicle use cases are validated to be nearly complete.  Implemented functions are validated and verified to meet engineering requirements in both controlled and on-road environments.
  • Most elements of the autonomous – such as fallback (minimal risk condition) mechanisms – are identified and implemented.  Safety drivers are still in the loop, but they are expected to serve as the secondary risk mitigation strategy.
  • Depending on the vehicle platform, some safety items (such as cyber security and human-machine interface) may still be addressed in alternative ways.
  • The safety driver may be the only person in the vehicle.  Time between subsequent safety driver actions may be extending.  Ensuring that safety drivers can maintain their vigilance in reduced workload is important.
  • Members of the public are still not in ADS prototype vehicles during expanded road testing.

Advancing an autonomous motor vehicle from prototyping stages to production release involves numerous development objectives.  These include the ability for the autonomous motor vehicle to perform nominal driving functions in known use cases, perform crash-avoidance manoeuvres, revert to a safe state when there are identified system and sensor failures, and react reasonably safely in edge cases.  On-road testing cannot be expected to address all aspects of testing needs toward deployment.  On-road testing is an important part of the overall development process in identifying and validating the completeness of use cases, gaining statistical confidence in a system’s ability to handle use cases, and identifying edge cases and otherwise interesting/difficult cases, as well as public perceptions and expectations.  However, once a new scenario of interest is identified in road-testing, it is usually added to a library and re-tested many times in controlled environments (simulation, track, hardware-in-the-loop, software-in-the-loop, etc.) and integrated as part of each software update release readiness assessment.

Limited to Full Deployment

Limited autonomous motor vehicle deployment is similar to what the public understands as demonstrations.  Full deployment of autonomous motor vehicles represents a system that is able to, for example, operate commercially and widely engage with the public.  The main purpose of this stage is to reach statistical confidence in the software for the intended operational environment, validate underlying safety assumptions, gather user and public feedback, and identify fine-tuning opportunities in user compatibility areas.  This stage can be characterised by these general characteristics:

  • Complete engineering requirements for autonomous motor vehicles are specified by the entity developing the technology, and internally documented.  Engineering design reviews are performed and documented.
  • The operational design domain is specified clearly, and autonomous motor vehicle operation only takes place within that operational design domain.  Relevant operational design domain elements are monitored to ensure full coverage.  Any operational design domain expansions go through requisite validation and verification processes, are documented, and are appropriately communicated when applied as a software update in deployed units.
  • Near-full software, hardware, system failure validation, and verification processes have been carried out with near production hardware.
  • The software is stable.  Software changes are centrally managed at the fleet level.  Any major change goes through new release readiness testing.
  • Nearly all elements of the autonomous motor vehicle system are identified and implemented.  Safety drivers (including remote safety drivers) may still be used, but their roles are limited and may eventually be eliminated.  Risk-based assessments are performed to assure safety of these approaches.
  • Safety and key performance indicators are set and monitored.
  • All safety items (including cyber security and human-machine interface) are addressed.
  • Members of the public are allowed in autonomous motor vehicles on public roads, initially on a limited basis.
  • Systems move toward full operation by being offered for sale, lease, or rent (to include free ride-sharing) or otherwise engaged in commerce in the form of the transport of goods or passengers.
  • In specified deployment areas, law enforcement, first responders, and relevant state and local agencies know of operational protocols and administrative procedures following a crash or other roadway event related to an autonomous motor vehicle.

As autonomous motor vehicle developers progress through the development stages, they should engage with the DOT and the autonomous motor vehicle stakeholder community.  While there will obviously be concerns with sharing potentially proprietary information and/or data, a collaborative effort will likely aid the development process, prioritise safety and manage risks. 

6. Conclusion

Federal and state legislatures will enact legislation dictating policies and laws regarding the development and implementation of autonomous motor vehicles while the use of these vehicles continues to increase exponentially.  However, the most recent guidance from the DOT explicitly states that it is looking to the private sector to innovate and shape the market.  The increase in autonomous motor vehicles will change profoundly the safety of driving and the attendant costs.  Any issues with the operation of autonomous motor vehicles will be subjected to increased scrutiny.  Accordingly, it is vital to ensure that the implementation of autonomous motor vehicles is efficient, safe, and as seamless as possible. 

Originally published by ICLG

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