January 22, 2018

U.S. Prepares for Autonomous Transportation with Request for Comment on Regulatory Barriers

Holland & Knight Transportation Blog
Joel E. Roberson | Libby Bloxom

As the United States prepares to harness the innovation of autonomous technology in transportation, the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is asking the public to identify regulatory barriers that can be removed to allow this sector to grow. This public feedback will inform version 3.0 of DOT’s Federal Automated Vehicle Policy that is scheduled to be released in the summer of 2018. DOT is taking an agency-wide approach to the adoption of autonomous technology that “will emphasize a unified, intermodal approach to automated driving systems (ADSs) policy [and] will enable the safe integration of surface automated transportation systems, including cars, trucks, light rail, infrastructure, and port operations."

The potential benefits of autonomous technology – reduced congestion, increased fuel efficiency, and reduced costs, among others – demonstrate the potential disruption the technology could have on the maritime, aviation, rail, vehicle, and other industries. Autonomous technology has the potential to increase the efficiency and operations of the supply chain by streamlining the movement of goods and cargo.

On January 10, 2018, DOT Secretary Elaine Chao announced at CES in Las Vegas that the agency would be issuing four requests for public comment on barriers to adopting autonomous technology. In the regulatory review process thus far, the Trump Administration has relied heavily on public comment as a basis for taking deregulatory action. This reliance requires that the public record include persuasive arguments regarding why a deregulatory (or new regulatory) approach is appropriate and will not create any unacceptable safety issues.

The four categories where DOT is currently requesting public comments are:

  1. Federal Highway Administration:  Request for Information (RFI) on Integration of ADS into the Highway Transportation System.  Comment deadline:  March 5, 2018.
  2. Federal Transit Administration:  Request for Comments (RFC) on Automated Transit Buses Research Program.  Comment deadline: March 2, 2018.
  3. Federal Transit Administration:  RFC on Removing Barriers to Transit Bus Automation.  Comment deadline:  March 2, 2018.
  4. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration:  RFC on Removing Regulatory Barriers for Automated Vehicles.  Comment deadline:  March 5, 2018.

DOT indicated that other constituent sub-agencies, such as the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and the Maritime Administration, may publish additional requests for comment in the future.

As clear from the requests, DOT is requesting broad comments on the logistics of deploying and operating motor vehicles with autonomous technology safely and efficiently. Specifically, DOT is interested in hearing from the public and industry stakeholders on issues relating to the infrastructure requirements of autonomous technology and the safety and efficiency standards necessary for the operations of such technology. DOT emphasized focusing, though not exclusively, on passenger vehicles and commercial motor vehicles with autonomous technology that lack controls for a human driver or operator.

Stakeholders that are currently testing, or are interested in exploring the potential of, autonomous transportation technology should consider providing public comments to assist DOT to identify regulatory barriers. These four public comment requests will inform the scope of changes needed to the current regulatory approach as DOT seeks to integrate autonomous technology across its various transportation platforms.

Secretary Chao, Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy Derek Kan and Deputy Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy Finch Fulton have identified the adoption of new transportation technology as priorities for DOT. Following the publication of version 3.0 of the Federal Automated Vehicle Policy, DOT anticipates it will begin version 4.0 for publication in 2019 to continue to unify its intermodal approach to autonomy in transportation.

Related Insights