NHTSA Maps Strategies for Driverless-Car Safety

By Matt Schmitz  on May 29, 2013


A new policy announced today by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is intended to steer driverless cars in the safest possible direction. The policy defines the different levels of vehicle automation and summarizes plans for research to ensure safety issues are examined. It also issued safety recommendations to states that have already authorized self-driving vehicles for test purposes.

NHTSA defines five levels of vehicle automation, including:

  • No automation: The driver is in complete control of the primary vehicle controls.
  • Function-specific automation: The vehicle performs one or more specific control functions — for example, electronic stability control, which has been mandatory on all light vehicles since model-year 2011.
  • Limited self-driving automation: The driver is able to cede full control of all critical functions under certain conditions, but must resume control when prompted by the vehicle that those conditions are changing.
  • Full self-driving automation: The vehicle performs all tasks for an entire trip.
The policy statement also describes NHTSA's autonomous-car research, the first phase of which is slated for completion within four years. "While the technology remains in early stages, NHTSA is conducting research on self-driving vehicles so that the agency has the tools to establish standards for these vehicles, should the vehicles become commercially available," NHTSA said in a statement.

NHTSA intends its forthcoming recommendations to help provide lawmakers with the tools to ensure safe implementation of automated vehicles on their states' roads. Nevada, California and Florida already have enacted legislation permitting autonomous cars to be operated on their respective roads for experimentation purposes.

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News Editor Matt Schmitz is a veteran Chicago journalist indulging his curiosity for all things auto while helping to inform car shoppers.  Email Matt