Reacting To New Bipartisan AV Bill: Good Start, But Missing ADAS Urgency
In “Draft of bipartisan driverless car bill offered by House panel,” Jessica Wehrman from Roll Call reports on a new draft of an AV Bill in the US Congress. Readers of this column will recall that a previous bill draft was developed in the US House earlier this year. The previous version consisted of three parts: Definitions for AV Portions, Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, and Relationship to Other Laws. Part 1 proposed encoding into federal law the well-publicized SAE Levels of AV automation while Part 2 dictated to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) the process to create safety standards, being very specific in terms of technology and timeframe. Finally, Part 3 proposed that federal law outweighs all other laws in establishing basic safety standards for Autonomous Vehicles (AVs). As pointed out in “Reacting To The Proposals In The U.S. House’s Autonomous Vehicle Bill,” there were issues with all three parts of the proposed bill.
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This latest bill is distinguished from the previous version by the fact that it was built in a bipartisan structure (both Senate and House staff). The result is a complete rewrite. The focus of this current bill is cyber security, consumer education, crash data collection, and staffing for DOT. Let us examine each of these:
Cybersecurity: The team’s large focus on cybersecurity is entirely warranted due to the national security implications. When dealing with transportation infrastructure which may be the target of bad actors and have massive consequences, it is better to plan ahead. The draft provides a structure of Reports and Requirements from Manufacturers combined with a Study to integrate the federal response. Overall, all of it makes good common sense.
Consumer Education and Crash Data: Coordinating and standardizing crash data is very important for advancing the science of AV safety. Similarly, determining the terminology to inform consumers is also very important. The proposed language makes good progress in this direction with a special focus on advanced AV systems. The numbers of advanced AV systems in the marketplace are minimal, so the associated safety risk is low.
However, advanced safety (ADAS+) systems are widely proliferated and in many ways, an unknown risk. The terminology and expected functions of ADAS+ systems are widely varying and there are indications that the ADAS+ functionality does not work well from studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS). Also, since the same software is used for millions of ADAS+ cars, the potential for systemic risk is much higher, and the regulatory response on escalation procedures needs to be similarly accelerated. The team should consider language which accelerates this work with a specific focus for ADAS+ systems.
Personal and Staffing: Building the federal capability in this area is very important, and the bill introduces the notion of a Highly Automated Systems Safety Center of Excellence. This also makes very good sense. However, the transportation function is split between federal, state, county, and town today. With its resources, the federal agencies will very likely be able to ramp up capabilities and staff a reasonable AV Safety Center of Excellence. However, the rest of the transportation infrastructure as well as more broader touch points such as law enforcement (traffic accident reports) will need to be trained as well. It would be very useful if the federal government provided capabilities for the training of non-federal agencies in the legislation.
Overall, this current bill is a good piece of work. Some more thought to enable staffing and training for non-federal agencies would be useful. However, the biggest missing piece is ignoring the urgency in addressing ADAS regulation. Echoing the criticism voiced in the reaction to the AV 4.0 effort from DOT, ADAS is proliferating widely with AV features and additional urgency is required on the regulatory response.
Note: A deeper examination of the economics of transportation ecosystem exists in a Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) report which can be found at SAE Mobius.