AUTOMATED VEHICLES: NHTSA unveils new policy, recommendations on self-driving vehicles

Technology recommended for testing purposes only while further research continues

June 03, 2013

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a 14-page document at the end of May addressing policy and recommendations for states to accommodate testing of automated or self-driving vehicles.

NHTSA opens the report by defining the five levels of vehicle automation, from 0 (no automation) to 4 (full self-driving automation). The report goes on to name three areas of study that agency research will focus on going forward—human factors research, development of system performance requirements and electronic control system safety—along with detailed topics to pursue in each area.   

Among the recommendations to states looking to test, develop, license and regulate self-driving vehicles are the following ideas:

  • limiting testing to conditions "suitable for the capabilities of the tested self-driving vehicles";

  • establishing reporting requirements to monitor self-driving technology performance during the testing phase;

  • ensuring that the transition from self-driving mode to driver control is easy, safe, and quick;

  • making sure the vehicles can detect, record, and inform the driver when an automated technology has malfunctioned;

  • ensuring the installation or use of self-driving technology does not disable any required safety feature or system; and

  • ensuring that the test vehicles record information on the status of the technology in case of a crash or a loss of control.

NHTSA recommends that states authorize the operation of self-driving vehicles for testing purposes only, and not for general travel purposes.