The Transportation Department this week released its long-awaited Federal Automated Vehicle Policy, which sets sweeping guidelines for how self-driving cars will be regulated.
Setting safety rules for autonomous technology—including vehicles that in some cases won’t include a steering wheel, brake, or gas pedal—is unprecedented, and the voluntary guidelines the feds came up with are similarly groundbreaking in several ways.
For one, the federal government typically imposes regulation only after a vehicle has been on the road, but the new guidelines call for creating standards for autonomous technology before robo-cars are available to the public. The DOT may even get involved with testing self-driving cars before they go on sale.
The guidelines state that the DOT will have the authority for “pre-market approval” of self-driving technology. “Pre-market approval means the government will be running these vehicles on test tracks,” Rick Walawender, head of corporate law and the autonomous vehicle team at law firm Miller Canfield, told Bloomberg. “NHTSA and the DOT seem pretty enamored with this approach.”
The guidelines also call for unparalleled cooperation between the various stakeholders in the space—everyone from car companies to tech giants such as Google to ridesharing services like Uber and Lyft. The guidelines also call for the sharing of these firms’ self-driving data with the government. This is probably the most radical aspect of the proposed regulations since it essentially asks rivals to share proprietary data—and in some cases software—so that it can be scrutinized by the government.
“We’re saying that when the software is operating the vehicle, that is an area that we intend to regulate,” Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said in a conference call with the media on Monday.
The guidelines state that “manufacturers or other entities should have the technical and legal capability to share relevant recorded information.” Automakers and others developing self-driving technology will be asked to provide documentation on 15 different topics, including how autonomous systems detect objects, the manner is which information and alerts are displayed to drivers, testing and validation methods used to develop the technology, and any cybersecurity measures that are put in place.
“This field is extremely competitive, and data has huge, huge value,” Jonathan Handel, an attorney with TroyGould who has written about self-driving cars, told Bloomberg. “Cooperation with the government is not a core value in Silicon Valley. It’s a libertarian environment. I don’t think Silicon Valley is going to turn over the keys to the kingdom.”
“It’s a significant data set. That’s where technology companies get territorial,” added Katie Thomson, former senior counsel at the DOT and now a partner at the law firm Morrison & Foerster.
The new autonomous driving guidelines are a first stab by the feds to stay ahead of self-driving technology, and also provide for a lot of flexibility since the US DOT acknowledges that the technology can and will change. The DOT is seeking comment on the guidelines from interested parties over the next 60 days, after which they will go into effect.
You can bet that one of the most hotly debated points over the next two months will be the proposed sharing of autonomous vehicle data, and that car companies and tech companies won’t be willing to hand it over so freely.
Originally published by PCMag.com