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Trump Administration Unveils Updated Federal Guidelines for Regulating Autonomous Vehicles

On January 8, 2020, the U.S. unveiled an updated non-binding federal policy for autonomous vehicles. The policy, issued by the White House and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, continues to take a hands-off approach to the regulation of autonomous vehicles. The updated policy aims to reinforce safety guidelines, unify federal agencies’ efforts, and ease regulatory barriers to U.S. innovation.

The U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao announced the policy, titled Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies 4.0, at the annual CES technology conference in Las Vegas. In her remarks, Chao said, "AV 4.0 will ensure American leadership in AV technology development and integration by providing unified guidance for the first time across the Federal government for innovators and stakeholders.”

The 56-page document establishes federal principles for the development and integration of automated vehicles, with a focus on three broad areas: prioritizing safety and security, promoting innovation, and ensuring a consistent regulatory approach. It also outlines ongoing efforts to support autonomous vehicle technology growth and leadership as well as prospects for collaboration, such as federal investment in the sector and resources for the public, developers, and researchers. AV 4.0 reaffirms that the U.S. government will promote regulatory consistency among stakeholders, and it builds on the prior policies by describing how specific departments and agencies contribute to, and play a part in, implementing these guidelines.

According to the updated policy document, “the U.S. Government will provide policies, guidance, and best practices; conduct appropriate research and pilot programs; and offer necessary assistance to help plan for and invest in a dynamic and flexible future for all Americans.” The document emphasizes that the government will enforce existing laws to ensure companies refrain from making misleading claims about the capabilities or limitations of autonomous vehicle technology.

The updated policy continues to promote the contribution of the industry in setting standards with respect to automated vehicles, e.g., voluntary consensus standards. However, the policy has limited details on what the standards should say. According to the updated policy, “[v]oluntary consensus standards can be validated by testing protocols, are supported by private sector conformity assessment schemes, and offer flexibility and responsiveness to the rapid pace of innovation.”

In light of this policy announcement, we will continue to watch the Canadian regulators to see whether Canada will take a similar approach.


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