In a statement released Tuesday, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao lauded the possibilities of automated driving systems, saying "we can look forward to a future with fewer traffic fatalities and increased mobility for all Americans".
Chao emphasized that the guidelines aren't meant to force automakers to use certain technology or meet stringent requirements.
"While these guidelines are important, they're not as transformational as the Self Drive Act could be or the bill we have coming out of the Senate could be", Katz said.
While many of today's automobiles have enhanced technological features, tomorrow's vehicles will build upon them and with each new model year, manufacturers will leverage more AV technologies to allow for a wider and more precise worldview outside the self-driving auto that enables it to be navigated more safely, she said.
The new guidelines are created to unify development of automation features, including full autonomy and advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), and to help unify industry, local, state and federal government efforts to that end. On one hand, the new guidance is "less burdensome" compared to the Obama administration's September 2016 semi-voluntary guidelines released past year so that innovation by automakers and tech companies isn't slowed down.
Tuesday's release of the DOT's AV guidance booklet follows the September 6 bipartisan approval by the U.S. House of Representatives of the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution (SELF DRIVE) Act, H.R. 3388. It focuses on Level 3-5 self-driving vehicles, which range from semi-autonomous to fully autonomous. The Obama-era policy stopped short of calling for new regulations, but it did lay ground rules for how companies should approach safety.
Regulators and lawmakers have been struggling to keep up with the pace of self-driving technology. According to the NHTSA, 94 percent of serious crashes are due to human error. Some countries, like South Korea, require pre-market government approval before autonomous vehicles can go out on the road, so the U.S.is on the more lenient side, Smith said. The bill permits the deployment of up to 25,000 vehicles exempted from standards in its first year and 100,000 annually after that.