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Autonomous Vehicle Technology to Be Focus of March DOT Summit

by Nathan Eddy
The US Department of Transportation (DOT) is to hold a public meeting on March 1 that would seek input towards a planned document regarding automated vehicles, with stakeholders including auto manufacturers set to attend.

The document, Automated Vehicles (AV) 3.0, will provide a framework for automation in the surface transportation system and describe the department's approach to the safe rollout of self-driving vehicles.

DOT representatives have said the objectives of the public meeting are primarily to get feedback on the draft AV 3.0 Framework and identify priority federal and non-federal activities that can accelerate the safe rollout of AVs.

The public meeting will be an open listening session to provide as great an opportunity for comment as possible.

The announcement noted all comments provided during the meeting would be oral and all written comments and presentations should be submitted to the docket for consideration.

In September, the DOT and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released federal guidance for Automated Driving Systems (ADS).

The guidance focuses on SAE International Levels of Automation 3-5 ADS, which includes conditional, high and full automation, and clarifies the guidance process, revises unnecessary design elements from the safety self-assessment and aligns federal guidance with the latest developments and industry terminology.

With conditional automation, a driver is a necessity but is not required to monitor the environment -- however the driver must be ready to take control of the vehicle at all times upon notice.

High automation means the vehicle is capable of performing all driving functions under certain conditions, and under full automation, the vehicle is capable of all driving functions in all conditions.

Over the coming months and years, NHTSA, along with other federal agencies including the DOT and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), will continue to provide guidance and best practices.

"Public trust and confidence in the evolution of [automated vehicles] has the potential to advance or inhibit the testing and deployment of them on public roadways," the report concluded.

Alphabet, with it self-driving car project Waymo, and General Motors, the twin titans of autonomous vehicles, were the top performing companies for vehicle testing, according to automaker reports submitted to California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

As part of its regulations, California requires companies testing its self-driving vehicles on public roads to submit a report on the year's test results, including disengagements, or incidents when a human operator had to manually take over the vehicle.

Despite the public advances of advanced drive assisted driving (ADAS) systems and the high-profile cross-country self-driving vehicle trials, some in the industry are skeptical as to how soon fully autonomous vehicles are a common presence.

Some industry experts and analysts argue it will be at least a decade before the testing phase of the technology is complete and autonomous vehicles become widespread.

In addition, the public is still not sold on the safety of autonomous vehicles, according to a January survey commissioned by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

The survey found a majority (63%) would not support "mass exemptions" from federal motor vehicle safety standards for self-driving cars, and overwhelmingly support (75%) the DOT developing new standards related to driverless vehicles.

Nathan Eddy is a filmmaker and freelance journalist based in Berlin. Follow him on Twitter @dropdeaded209_LR.

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