Autonomous vehicle technologies will revolutionize industries, societies, and mobility. Some higher-end automakers are offering near SAE Automation Level 3 technology today, and even more automakers are slated for widespread deployment in the very near term. Over the next three to five years, autonomous vehicle tech will become increasingly pervasive and commonplace, and will be at the heart of an unprecedented automotive industry evolution. To prepare for the new AV world, stakeholders from startups to Congress are coordinating to create bipartisan legislation to govern the use of AVs on public roads.
The average American drives 1,000 miles a month, but knowledge of government transportation policy and regulation is minimal and often goes unnoticed. Lawmakers engage industry associations, automakers, and tier one suppliers like HARMAN to enhance consumer safety, rider experience, and the way we interact with technologies that connect us to the world.
Roadway governance is a good example of how local, state, and federal governments work together, however specific roles are commonly confused. State and local governments deal primarily with regulating operation of vehicles, setting speed limits, and managing licensing and registration. Bigger state roads are patrolled by state troopers or highway patrol, while smaller roads are handled by municipalities, and traffic laws are enforced by municipal or city police departments.
The government’s involvement in transportation goes well beyond speeding tickets. Regulatory bodies, namely the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), works with automakers to keep Americans safe on the roads. NHTSA stringently regulates today’s car with crash testing for safety ratings and by ensuring manufacturers build cars to certain performance standards. In many ways, NHTSA’s work drives public trust, providing consumers with an assurance that all vehicles operating on U.S. roadways have met strict safety standards. Other federal entities like the Environmental Protections Agency (EPA) set vehicle emissions standards so consumers can know what they’re driving is environmentally sustainable.
As the industry ventures further into a connected and automated future, NHTSA is playing an important role in public education and industry deployment of new AV technologies. For example, vehicle cybersecurity, and cloud services —some of HARMAN’s core competencies—are key drivers of emerging AV technologies that NHTSA and DOT are studying.
To reduce confusion, increase innovation, and promote public trust, clear policy and regulation is needed so all stakeholders can fully understand the rules of the road. One such policy is the U.S. Senate’s American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act (AV START Act). The AV START Act, which has passed through committees but has not been voted on the Senate floor, would help create the first ever federal framework for the testing and deployment of AV on U.S. public roadways. Only a quarter of all bills make it out of committee, and organizations like the Intelligent Car Coalition are at work to make sure the AV Start Act passes through Senate and merge with the legislation called the SELF DRIVE Act from the House of Representatives. In this case, legislation is an example of federal preemption. It governs AV regulation and designates state and federal roles so industry players, like HARMAN, can thrive without being hindered by a patchwork of state-to-state AV legislation. Timely federal legislation is especially important in the automotive industry, as the vehicle development lifecycle in the auto industry is typically five to seven years and costs billions of dollars. Clear and consistent federal guidance will help guide companies as they develop products and services.
Regulation responds to legislation. Regulatory bodies follow legal authorities to provide and implement specific rules and guidelines. NHTSA’s enforcement of federal legislation is in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS). The FMVSS currently standardizes almost every aspect of today’s modern vehicles like tires, driver visibility, and child restraint systems. But in the future it could effect the performance of AV sensors and even artificial intelligence in potentially life and death situations.
AVs will be an amazing achievement and will revolutionize transportation and mobility. But to make them a reality, we must first have the infrastructure and cohesive policy framework that incorporates safety and security guidelines as well as continued investment in innovations.