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DOT Publishes “Comprehensive Plan” for Automated Vehicles

January 14, 2021

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In January 2021, the U.S. Department of Transportation (“DOT”) published a “Comprehensive Plan” to promote collaboration, modernize regulations, and prepare the U.S. transportation system for the safe integration of automated vehicles (the “AV Plan”). The AV Plan builds on the DOT’s 2020 report “Ensuring American Leadership in Automated Vehicle Technologies: Automated Vehicles 4.0” (“AV 4.0”) and other efforts, including a December 2020 ANPRM seeking public input on a “framework” for automated vehicles.

The AV Plan presents three overarching goals: (1) collaboration with government, industry, and public stakeholders, (2) modernizing regulations to remove “unintended and unnecessary barriers” to automated vehicles, and (3) conducting foundational research and demonstration activities related to the safety, efficiency, and accessibility of automated vehicles. It emphasizes 10 “Automated Vehicle Technology Principles” previously outlined in AV 4.0:

  • Prioritize safety;
  • Emphasize security and cybersecurity;
  • Ensure privacy and data security;
  • Enhance mobility and accessibility;
  • Remain technology neutral;
  • Protect American innovation and creativity;
  • Modernize the regulatory environment (including streamlining deployment);
  • Promote consistent standards and policies;
  • Ensure a consistent federal approach; and
  • Improve transportation system-level effects.

The DOT highlights some of its recent rulemaking actions and guidance as part of efforts to create “evidence-based and data-driven regulations” for automated vehicles.

The AV Plan indicates several enforcement priorities of the DOT and its subagencies, including using its investigative authority to ensure safe operation of automated driving systems and enforcing existing laws to prevent deceptive or misleading claims about the “performance capabilities and limitations of AV technologies.” One effort it featured is AV Test, an initiative to develop safe testing of automated driving capabilities on public roads. The AV Plan also emphasizes the importance of cybersecurity and privacy and the DOT’s cross-agency approach to facilitating development of best practices in those areas.

The AV Plan discusses the availability of exemptions and waivers as part of a flexible approach to encourage development. Recent federal legislative efforts would have enhanced the DOT’s exemption authority to allow waivers for larger numbers of vehicles. Although the DOT describes its exemption authority as a “key near-term tool,” it emphasizes that exemptions “are not intended to allow indefinite noncompliance for large numbers of vehicles.” Rather, the DOT envisions that it will use this authority in the near future for “testing and limited on-road deployment.”

Recognizing the growing promise of automated vehicles for deliveries, the AV Plan also discusses the possibility of low-speed, occupant-less vehicles to serve such needs in addition to passenger-related implementations.

The DOT emphasizes cross-government partnerships, international collaboration, and public engagement as ways to continue to propel the industry forward.

O’Melveny’s Automated and Connected Vehicles industry group continues to track regulatory developments and opportunities on behalf of the firm’s clients. If you have any specific questions, please reach out to Melody Drummond Hansen and Jason Orr.

This memorandum is a summary for general information and discussion only and may be considered an advertisement for certain purposes. It is not a full analysis of the matters presented, may not be relied upon as legal advice, and does not purport to represent the views of our clients or the Firm. Melody Drummond Hansen, an O’Melveny Partner licensed to practice law in California, the District of Columbia, and Illinois, and Jason Orr, an O’Melveny Counsel licensed to practice law in California and Colorado, contributed to the content of this newsletter. The views expressed in this newsletter are the views of the authors except as otherwise noted.

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