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CEI Submits Comments to Federal Vehicle Regulator on Automated Driving Systems

Today, CEI submitted comments to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in response to its Request for Comment on Removing Regulatory Barriers for Vehicles With Automated Driving Systems.

CEI confined its comments to the questions posed by NHTSA and focused on how the process for modernizing federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) could be improved, thereby allowing for more rapid deployment of vehicles equipped with new self-driving technology that are expected to come to market in the coming years. This is critical not only for the potential safety benefits offered by automated vehicles, but for the potential mobility gains to the disabled and elderly, the reduced cost of mobility to urban and suburban dwellers, and far more efficient freight networks.

We made the following points:

  • NHTSA’s interpretation of “driver” and “operator” to include automated driving systems (ADS) in its response to Google resolves some, but not all, ADS-related regulatory conflicts under the existing FMVSS regime. This is especially true for future self-driving vehicles with unconventional cabin layouts enabled by the elimination of a human driver and driver controls. Expanding exemptions can allow more manufacturer flexibility, but only rulemaking proceedings to amend the relevant regulations can adequately address these issues.
  • Congress enacted a law in the 1990s that made it official federal policy for regulatory agencies to rely on private technical standards, rather than writing their own government-unique standards. NHTSA could better conform to the spirit of the law and focus its attention on making sure the FMVSS regime it administers is updated regularly to reflect modern technical standards. But Congress would likely need to make a change to NHTSA’s enabling statute to ensure NHTSA actually carries this out.
  • NHTSA should strengthen its relationships with standards-setting bodies by actively participating on standards committees, rather than merely observing the proceedings.
  • Congress should amend NHTSA’s enabling statute to include a provision that requires NHTSA to provide notice to the public whenever a private standard incorporated by reference in FMVSS is revised. NHTSA should then accept public comment and determine whether or not it will begin the rulemaking process to amend any relevant FMVSS affected by the revised, incorporated standard.

See our full comment letter for more detail. CEI also submitted comments on March 5 in response to a similar request for information from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) focused on automated vehicles and infrastructure policy, in which we argue that FHWA should abandon its technology-specific vehicle-to-infrastructure policy in favor of one based on technology neutrality. Those comments are available here.

Since 2011, CEI has been active in policy discussions across the country on automated vehicles, producing a number of studies, comments and testimony, and opinion essays. Thanks to this work, CEI has seen a number of its free-market policy recommendations on automated driving systems implemented by governments at the federal, state, and local levels. CEI will continue to work with scholars, advocates, regulators, and politicians to minimize heavy-handed and counterproductive government regulation of this exciting emerging automotive technology.