Guidelines for Self-Driving Cars


There’s been plenty of speculation about self driving cars. How safe will they be? What sort of moral code will they be programmed with? Will people really be willing to give up the fun of driving?

The Department of Transportation has put an end to some speculation by producing “the most comprehensive national automated vehicle policy that the world has ever seen.” This is the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, and it covers a lot of important issues.

It’s intended to be a starting point for the discussion, and it’s a strong beginning.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) isn’t anti-tech, even though they begin their document with the weird claim that “Technology isn’t new to transportation.” This seems blindingly obvious, like, “Metal isn’t new to machinery” or “Electricity isn’t new to lighting.”

They pick up the pace later, though, saying, “For DOT, the excitement around highly automated vehicles (HAVs) starts with safety. Two numbers exemplify the need. First, 35,092 people died on U.S. roadways in 2015 alone. Second, 94 percent of crashes can be tied to a human choice or error.”

This is a central point. For many of us, the idea of self-driving cars connects emotionally with a runaway car whose driver has bailed out and allowed it to go over a cliff. Thinking of it as just another form of automation is a more realistic and a more practical option.

“Innovations have the potential to transform personal mobility and open doors to people and communities,” DOT points out, echoing some of the primary benefits of automation, “people with disabilities, aging populations, communities where car ownership is prohibitively expensive, or those who prefer not to drive or own a car—that today have limited or impractical options.” Machines, in other words, can do things that people cannot do or things that are unsafe or unpleasant for human beings.

The guidelines themselves begin with current guidelines which can with little or no modification apply to self-driving vehicles. They go on to look in more detail at some specific aspects of the automated vehicles:

  • Data Recording and Sharing
  • Privacy
  • System Safety
  • Vehicle Cybersecurity
  • Human-Machine Interface
  • Crashworthiness
  • Consumer Education and Training
  • Post-Crash Vehicle Behavior
  • Federal, State and Local Laws
  • Ethical Considerations

Each element has a useful discussion. For example, there’s a suggestion that data should be collected for the express purpose of studying crashes and using the information to improve safety. It should be clear whether the human driver or the HAV system was in control of the vehicle at the time an accident took place. There should be standards about how this kind of information is shared, and data for research should be separated from personal data about people.

There are notes on what standards are probably generally agreed upon and which require more discussion and research. And the document recognizes that cars are not the only kind of automated vehicle to be considered. TechTimes reports that a number of car manufacturers have already stepped up for collaboration, but no word on industrial automated vehicle manufacturers.

Read the whole document.

Perhaps Industry 4.0 should have a similar set of guidelines and a similar document. There are some standards and organizations already in place that might serve as a starting point.

In the meantime, we’re your starting point whenever you need support and service for your Rexroth Electric motion control systems.

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