The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has no idea what to do with autonomous vehicles being pushed by Google, Audi, and Volvo, among others. Regulating the future is tricky, and the old people running America are kind of freaking out.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) knows that driverless cars are already on the road, and that once they hit the mass market the agency is going to be faced with an issue; how do you regulate, maintain safety standards, and define this thing? The car industry is changing. We have electric vehicles, hybrid vehicles, and gas powered vehicles. Each vehicle has its own type of safety issues involved but one thing remains the same – they have human drivers. Autonomous vehicles do not.
In response to the coming robot cars, NHTSA has outlines five levels of vehicle automation.
- Level 0 means no automation at all, i.e. cars as they are today.
- Level 1 includes such standard safety tech as stability control, ABS, adaptive cruise control, and pre-charged brakes. Many cars are integrating these features today.
- Level 2 ties two or more of those systems together to provide semi-autonomous driving, such as setting a vehicle in “Traffic Jam Mode” so the car stays in its lane and within a safe distance of the vehicle ahead. This is the next level of commercial automation.
- Level 3 is the equivalent of Google’s autonomous car when the robot drives and controls some and the person does/can too.
- Level 4 is a vehicle where you type in your destination and go for a ride. In other words, complete automation.
The NHTSA is all about safety. What the NHTSA would like is for an autonomous vehicle manufacture like Google to do is prove that their technology is safe for a particular state’s driving conditions. For example, Google would have to show the state of Maine that the Google car could perform safely in all of Maine’s many driving conditions; sun, snow, rain, hail, more snow and so on.
The catch is the NHTSA does not want states to enact legislation that would set such safety standards because the NHTSA sees the technology advancing faster than the legislation could keep up. Even though the NHTSA recommends states do not set safety standards, they do suggest that states create license categories and report any “incidents” involving the autonomous vehicles.
Overall, it is hard to set regulation without stifling advancement.
Andrew Meggison was born in the state of Maine and educated in Massachusetts. Andrew earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Government and International Relations from Clark University and a Master’s Degree in Political Science from Northeastern University. Being an Eagle Scout, Andrew has a passion for all things environmental. In his free time Andrew enjoys writing, exploring the great outdoors, a good film, and a creative cocktail. You can follow Andrew on Twitter @AndrewMeggison