Executive Summary

On January 8, 2020, the US Department of Transportation (DOT) released the most recent update to its policies and guidance for automated vehicles (AVs) and automated driving systems (ADS) - Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies: Automated Vehicles 4.0 (AV 4.0). This update builds upon AV 3.0, released in October 2018, by expanding the scope of US AV policy and guidance to 38 relevant US government agencies/entities which have a direct or indirect role in the development and integration of AV technologies.

AV 4.0 is the first US AV guidance released with direct input from the White House. While AV 3.0 established core DOT principles, the White House National Science and Technology Council (NSTC) established in AV 4.0 the following three fundamental principles with corresponding priorities, which are applicable to the entire US government: (1) protecting users and communities (safety, security, privacy, and accessibility), (2) promoting efficient markets (technology neutrality, protecting American innovation, and modernizing regulations), and (3) facilitating coordinated efforts (consistent standards/policies/federal approach and improvement of transportation system-level effects).

Under the above three principles, AV 4.0 details a unified approach for the federal government's efforts to foster collaboration in the integration of automated vehicles among all stakeholders. The guidance focuses on two main topics: (1) US government efforts supporting automated vehicle technology growth and leadership and (2) US government activities and opportunities for collaboration.

US AV Developments Between AV 3.0 and AV 4.0

AV 3.0 set forth DOT’s six “automation principles”—(1) prioritizing safety; (2) remaining technology neutral; (3) modernizing regulations; (4) encouraging a consistent regulatory and operational environment; (5) preparing proactively for automation; and (6) protecting and enhancing the freedoms enjoyed by Americans. With these principles, DOT sought in 2018 to promote action through stakeholder engagement, best practices, voluntary standards, targeted research, and regulatory modernization. The six DOT AV 3.0 principles are each reflected in the broader US government principles set forth in AV 4.0, while AV 4.0 has added cybersecurity, privacy, protection of American innovation, and the improvement of transportation system-level effects as additional priorities.

Since AV 3.0, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued two Advanced Notices of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRMs) - one for a Pilot Program for Collaborative Research on Motor Vehicles with High or Full Driving Automation and one on the agency’s approach to testing and verifying compliance with existing federal crash-avoidance standards for AVs, with the goal of amending the standards as needed. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) also issued an ANPRM on federal motor carrier safety regulations (FMCSRs) that may need to be revised or eliminated to facilitate the safe introduction of automated commercial motor vehicles.

AV 4.0 continues to promote the utility of pilot programs generally and establishes the US government's commitment to moving them forward as part of its broader AV integration efforts. With AV 4.0's commitment to modernizing regulations across all US agencies, it is expected that NHTSA and FMCSA will accelerate their work on the above rulemakings and that other agencies will follow suit in amending applicable regulations as needed.

Opportunities for Collaboration between the US Government and the Private Sector

AV 4.0 highlights the federal government's collaborative approach with public and private stakeholders, which builds on DOT's guidance from AV 2.0 and AV 3.0. In particular, AV 4.0 re-emphasizes collaboration with the private sector by building on the voluntary guidance in AV 2.0 and AV 3.0 through promotion of "voluntary consensus standards as a mechanism to encourage increased investment and bring cost-effective innovation to the market more quickly." This continuing emphasis on voluntary consensus standards recognizes the nascent development of automated driving systems while simultaneously facilitating conversation between private stakeholders across the AV spectrum.

Importantly, DOT has actively sought the advice and expertise of numerous stakeholders as part of DOT's collaborative efforts with the private sector. Through its explicit recognition of these efforts, AV 4.0 encourages an active discussion regarding automated vehicles via numerous avenues: whether through symposiums, submitting comments to notices published in the Federal Register, participating in listening sessions or online dialogues, it is clear that DOT hopes to foster a broader, more accessible discussion surrounding the development of automated vehicle technologies in the United States. AV 4.0 specifically highlights opportunities for AV stakeholders to collaborate with the US government in the areas of safety, mobility, fundamental research, security and cybersecurity, infrastructure, spectrum and connectivity, and workforce considerations.

AV 4.0 also broadens the scope of the federal government's collaborative efforts by bringing in federal agencies outside of DOT. Specifically, and as further detailed below, AV 4.0 highlights the numerous federal agencies that also have a stake in promoting the development of automated vehicle technologies, and how those federal agencies interact with stakeholders in the AV ecosystem. By way of example, AV 4.0 flags the federal government's interest in promoting and protecting intellectual property rights, including intellectual property rights that are not capable of registration with the United States Patent Trademark Office (USPTO). AV 4.0 additionally addresses the AV ecosystem in the context of the US economy by expressly identifying several tax credits available to AV innovators and assuring that the "US Government will seek rules, both at home and abroad, that are as performance-based and non-prescriptive as possible and do not discriminate against US technologies, products, or services."

Ongoing Fundamental Research by Federal Agencies

AV 4.0 highlights multiple federal agencies outside of DOT that are carrying out or supporting academic research on AVs or complementary technologies, including the following:

US Department of Agriculture (USDA)

  • USDA is conducting AV research related to agricultural production and processing, including developing AV tools and systems related to decreasing labor requirements for managing animals in ranching operations, robotics-centered projects for precision agricultural operations, and the development of a new generation of automated high clearance tractors.

Department of Defense (DOD)

  • DOD research includes efforts to improve sensors and networking technologies for autonomous platforms and improving navigation capabilities through improvements in GPS and inertial navigation systems driven by advances in quantum science, both of which will have commercial applications. 

Department of Energy (DOE)

  • DOE is using its High Performance Computing (HPC) and AI capabilities at the National Laboratories to address roadway congestion and to fundamentally extend computing capability in support of future safe operation of SAE Level 5 AVs.
  • DOE's Vehicle Technologies Office (VTO) and the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) have made several cost-shared financial assistance awards focused on automated and connected vehicles and efficient mobility.

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)

  • NASA is developing a broad range of technologies relevant to surface AVs under its Robotics and Autonomous Systems Technology Roadmap, including its open-source Visual Environment for Remote and Virtual Exploration (VERVE)”, which is used to visualize robot sensor data, telemetry, and remote environments as well as to interactively handle contingencies and exceptions. AV companies are currently developing similar systems to support monitoring and supervision of AV operations, such as delivery and taxi services.

National Science Foundation (NSF)

  • NSF is funding basic research on sensor technologies, real-time machine learning, the safety of AV occupants and other road users, communication issues between AVs, social issues surrounding the adoption of AVs, and a future transportation system that incorporates surface AVs

Prioritizing Privacy and Cybersecurity Concerns

In an effort to address stakeholder concerns for consumer privacy and cybersecurity protections in AV deployment, AV 3.0 focused on the DOT's partnership with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the use of data exchange guidelines, the Guiding Principles on Data for Automated Vehicle Safety to assuage stakeholders' concerns (available here). AV 4.0 builds on this approach by showcasing federally-funded agencies that are prioritizing privacy protections and security vulnerabilities within their research and program initiatives:

  • The National Science Foundation allocates funding to research related to the relationship between user privacy and the architecture of AV sharing services.
  • NHTSA established safety standards that focus on software vulnerabilities and other cybersecurity issues that could potentially lead to crashes or other dangerous outcomes. NHTSA also conducts cybersecurity research that focuses on a vehicle's entry points, both wireless and wired, to reduce the possibility of a cyber-attack.
  • The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) created the Cyber-Physical Systems Program, which develops methods for testing AV trustworthiness, including the privacy, security, and safety, within Automated Driving Systems.

In addition to funding new research and programs addressing privacy and cybersecurity concerns, the US government is also responsible for regulating AV technology companies to ensure that such entities do not make false or deceptive claims that mislead the public about AV technologies. The FTC plays a large role in this effort as the principal consumer protection agency. The FTC is able to use its authority under Section 5 of the FTC Act, which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts by entities participating in commercial activities, to regulate AV technology companies that make deceptive claims with respect to privacy and security practices or collection and use of consumer personal information. The Department of Justice is also taking an active role in enforcing federal laws related to ensuring public safety and protecting national security by prosecuting criminals responsible for exploiting computer systems that involve AV technology. Through interagency partnerships, the US government is working to become a global leader in AV technology, while prioritizing its commitment to consumer privacy protection and cybersecurity practices.

AV 4.0: U.S. Government Initiatives and Opportunities for Collaboration

AV 4.0 sets forth a clear direction for the broader US government's approach to the integration of AV technologies: US federal agencies will promote voluntary consensus standards and support AV development through fundamental research, targeted funding, pilot programs and other opportunities for collaboration. Under AV 4.0, safety, technology neutrality, regulatory modernization, cybersecurity, privacy, protection of US intellectual property, and the improvement of transportation system-level effects will be prioritized by all federal agencies/entities with a role in the integration of AVs. AV stakeholders will have a number of opportunities to collaborate with the U.S. government in its various initiatives, including through fundamental research, pilot programs, and the development of consensus design and performance standards. As federal agencies accelerate their activities under the principles of AV 4.0, AV stakeholders will wish to comment on forthcoming rulemakings to shape US federal AV policy and regulations, seek out opportunities to partner with agencies in research and other initiatives, and monitor future policies, guidance and best practices issued by the US government to inform future design and operational considerations.

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