HR 3412 clarifies which powers to the regulate automated vehicles are delegated to the federal government and the states. This separation of state and federal powers is known as federalism.
While the federal government would be responsible for the regulation of the design, construction, and performance of automated vehicles, the states will retain all other authorities. For example, New Hampshire currently does not have a law requiring adults to wear seat belts.
NHTSA has adopted the International Society of Automotive Engineers’s (SAE) categories of autonomous vehicles, which creates a system for classifying automated vehicles according to six levels.
- Level 0 (No Automation): A typical car where the human driver is in full control of the dynamic driving task, like steering, accelerating, braking, and parking.
- Level 1 )Driver Assistance): A car where a computer can handle either the steering or acceleration/deceleration, but not both. Examples include adaptive cruise control and park assist.
- Level 2 (Partial Automation): A car where a computer handles both the steering and acceleration/deceleration concurrently at times. The driver is still responsible for taking over at any time and must remain alert by monitoring the driving environment. Tesla’s current Autopilot system is an example.
- Level 3 (Conditional Automation): A car where the automated driving system monitors the driving environment and the human driver only has to “respond appropriately to a request to intervene.”
- Level 4 (High Automation): A car where the system does not rely on the human to respond to emergency situations. Future Category 4 cars may not have a steering wheel, gas or brake pedals. Current examples are Waymo cars.
- Level 5 (Full Automation]) A car does not require the driver at all under any conditions. For example, these types of cars would not need steering wheels, and the inside interior can be converted into a social space with a seat facing backwards.
These different types of automated vehicles where computer algorithms take over the decision-making process of driving raises new issues for our government to handle. Most of these issues implicate ethics, business, and the law.
In 2016, 37,461 people died due to motor vehicle related accidents in the US alone. Possibly 94 percent of serious crashes are a result of human errors. The motivation behind the deployment of automated vehicles includes the potential for safety improvements over human-operated vehicles.
There are also economic and social incentives to regulate automated vehicles: vehicle crashes in 2010 cost $242 billion in economic activity, in addition to $594 billion due to loss of life and costs related to decreased quality of life. Americans also spent an estimated 6.9 billion hours in traffic delays in 2014. Automated vehicles could help reduce the time, fuel, and productivity costs associated with this time spent on the road, by increasing coordination between vehicles. In addition, completely automated vehicles may turn transit time into productive time. Disabled and underserved populations lacking practical transit options may have increased access to transportation. Improved mobility is addressed in HR 3413, the Access Act, which is mentioned below.
Automated vehicles will not be immune to cybersecurity threats as hackers will have great potential to access and control multiple vehicles at one time. This potential for destruction and terroristic use cannot be overlooked and is also addressed by HR 3411, mentioned below.