News & Resources

Publications & Media

US DOT Introduces Long-Awaited Guidance on Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous & Connected Vehicles Alert Kevin M. Long and Joy Johns

On October 4, 2018 the United States Department of Transportation (US DOT) released the third installment of its voluntary guidance related to autonomous vehicles. The guidance, entitled "Automated Vehicles 3.0:  Preparing for the Future of Transportation," builds off the guidance provided in September of 2017, but also updates and changes that guidance. 

Among other key developments, which will be summarized in upcoming updates, the guidance identifies six principles that guide US DOT programs and policies related to automation as well as five implementation strategies for translating the principles into action.

US DOT's Main Principles

1. Prioritizing safety: The updated 3.0 guidance reiterates the importance of safety in the autonomous age. The US DOT will lead efforts to address safety risks for vehicle operators and occupants, pedestrians and others on the roadway.

2. Remaining technology neutral: The US DOT plans to adopt flexible, technology neutral policies to promote competition and innovation. The goal is to allow the public and not the government to choose the most effective transportation and mobility solutions.

3. Modernizing regulations: The US DOT will modernize and eliminate outdated regulations that unnecessarily impede the development of automated vehicles. The US DOT will seek rules that are as performance-based as possible. Already the US DOT is adapting the definitions of "driver" and "operator" to recognize that the terms do not refer exclusively to a human.

4. Encouraging a consistent regulatory and operational environment: The US DOT recognizes that conflicting state and federal laws can create confusion. Therefore, the US DOT focuses on promoting regulatory consistency in order to facilitate seamless operation of AVs. Federal standards will supersede if the effect of a state law tort claim would impose a performance standard on a motor vehicle.

5. Preparing proactively for automation: The US DOT is taking on the responsibility of providing guidance, best practices, pilot programs and other assistance to help partners make the necessary investments for an autonomous future. The US DOT will also prepare for complimentary technologies without assuming universal implementation of those technologies, avoiding a "one-size-fits-all" approach.

6. Protecting the freedoms Americans enjoy: The US DOT embraces the freedom of Americans who want to drive their own vehicles. There is an active effort to protect that freedom by seeking to include autonomous vehicles alongside conventional manually driven vehicles. The US DOT is also supporting technologies that enhance mobility for those with disabilities and the elderly.

US DOT's Five Implementation Strategies

The US DOT is implementing the following strategies to translate the above-referenced principals into action:

  1. Stakeholder engagement: The 3.0 Guidance addresses a number of issues raised by stakeholders during the comment period following 2.0 Guidance. There are also plans to request public comment on a number of new issues.

  1. Best practices: Certain locations will no longer be favored, as there is a rapid increase in testing locations. The designations of ten Automated Vehicle Proving Grounds will no longer be recognized.

  1. Voluntary standards: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's overall approach to safety standards may be revamped in order to recognize and promote innovation.

  1. Targeted research: Rather than a "one-size-fits-all" approach, the Federal Transit Administration will provide transit agencies with tailored technical assistance as they develop.

  1. Regulatory modernization: States and localities should work to remove incompatible regulations in order to support interoperability.

Overall, the 3.0 Guidance broadens its view in the landscape of autonomous vehicles. Safety is always the top priority, but there is also an emphasis on partnerships, inclusion and transparency all the while solidifying each entity's roll as innovation progresses.

In the coming days, we will do a deeper dive into other impactful portions of the guidance. You can review it in full here.

For additional information, please call your local Quarles & Brady attorney or contact