NHTSA has expanded a voluntary program designed to gather and share data on the testing and development of automated driving systems nationwide.
NHTSA's Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing (AV TEST) Initiative launched in June with the goal of providing the public with more access to data on AV testing and other information from states on local AV activity, legislation and regulation.
The agency on Monday said the pilot version has transitioned into a full program open to all stakeholders.
Previously, nine companies and nine states had signed up to participate, including Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, Toyota Motor Corp., Uber Technologies Inc., Waymo and Cruise — General Motors' majority-owned self-driving subsidiary. States included California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas.
With the expansion, 52 stakeholders are now participating: 26 companies such as self-driving technology developers Valeo and Argo AI as well as 23 states and local governments and three associations, NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens said.
"The AV TEST Initiative is one of several programs underway at NHTSA to help address safety and innovation in the rapidly changing world of transportation," Owens said in prepared remarks. "The auto industry is undergoing a technological revolution, and tens of billions of dollars have been invested in automation research and development that hold the potential one day to fundamentally change the way we drive and dramatically reduce vehicle-related deaths and injuries."
The expanded program comes after NHTSA in September launched an online tracking tool that allows the public to view certain information submitted by states and companies that are testing vehicles equipped with automated driving systems on U.S. roadways.
Critics, including the Center for Auto Safety and the National Transportation Safety Board, have urged NHTSA to mandate federal safety standards for automated driving systems, while some industry stakeholders have applauded the voluntary and flexible aspects of the program.
Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, urged the agency to “take an off ramp from allowing unfettered and unverified AV development and deployment to the peril of all road users” and, instead, develop “common sense rules” for AVs.
“NHTSA’s support for and reliance on voluntary industry actions is imprudent and even reckless in its approach to ensure the safe development of this experimental technology,” Chase said in a statement.
NHTSA's Owens said the agency has not yet issued new performance standards for automated driving systems because "this technology is still far from its endpoint."
"To regulate technologies before they are market-ready could stifle their development and thus, their lifesaving potential," he said. "Worse still, regulating without a full understanding of the technology could risk regulating the wrong aspects of performance and potentially lead to unexpected negative safety consequences in other ways."
More AV guidance
The U.S. Department of Transportation on Monday also released its Automated Vehicles Comprehensive Plan, a document that builds upon the principles outlined in previous federal guidance such as AV 4.0.
“This is bipartisan in nature,” Finch Fulton, the department’s deputy assistant secretary for transportation policy, said during the virtual event. “This is something that will be a great foundation for the next administration's efforts around automated vehicles.”
The plan outlines key actions by the department related to supporting and overseeing the safety and integration of AVs on U.S. roads. That includes promoting collaboration and transparency to provide greater access to reliable information on AVs, modernizing regulations to remove unintended and unnecessary barriers to the development of AVs and conducting research to safely evaluate and integrate AVs into the transportation system.
“It takes everyone playing their role, working together in coordination, understanding what their job is and what their partners' jobs are in the entire ecosystem, in the federal government, with our state and local partners, law enforcement agencies and the innovators themselves,” Fulton said. “People have to know their role and be able to actively take part in this so that we can move towards the future that we want to see.”