NHTSA, FMCSA issue pre-rulemaking proposals for autonomous vehicles

June 3, 2019

Both agencies are seeking comments in advance of more concrete rulemaking measures

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) issued separate advance notices of proposed rulemaking that seek to allow the “safe introduction” of autonomous personal and commercial vehicles on U.S. roadways.

Both agencies have stressed that they are only seeking comments at this stage of the rulemaking process in order to “ensure that all potential approaches are fully considered” as they move forward with more declarative regulatory actions.

NHTSA said its rulemaking will address “regulatory barriers” posed by certain existing Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that might inhibit the wider deployment of vehicles governed by automated driving system or ADS technology.

That includes the lack of “traditional manual controls” such as steering wheels and brake pedals, along with other features that “facilitate operation of a vehicle by a human driver,” the agency said.

NHTSA added in a statement that it believes that modifications of existing regulatory text are needed so autonomous vehicles lacking those and other features still comply with other aspects of the FMVSS rules.

“Public comments received during this stage will help inform NHTSA’s path forward [as] our mission is to protect Americans on our roads,” noted NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King. “As automated driving systems develop, NHTSA will continue to adapt to make sure the agency is equipped to ensure public safety while encouraging innovation.”

FMCSA’s rulemaking will target certain commercial vehicle requirements that may be affected by ADS technology, such as changes to commercial driver’s license endorsements and Hours of Service rules; updated vehicle inspection, repair, and maintenance protocols; changes to roadside inspection procedures; plus cybersecurity needs.

“FMCSA is hoping to receive feedback from commercial motor vehicle stakeholders and the motoring public on how the agency should adapt its regulations for the development of increased automated driving systems in large trucks and buses,” noted FMCSA Administrator Raymond Martinez in a statement. “We know that while many of these technologies are still in development, it is critical that we carefully examine how to make federal rules keep up with this advancing technology.”

The regulation of autonomous vehicles and the many challenges of bringing them into the overall U.S. road system will be a hot topic at the upcoming ITS America Annual Meeting this week.

This post was originated by AASHTO; it has been edited.