It’s arguable that a new regulatory pathway for self-driving vehicles to enter the roads will emerge soon. The deployment of autonomous vehicles without conventional controls like steering wheels or brake pads will be authorized under a new national program, which was revealed by a top government safety authority earlier this week.
Businesses can deploy many self-driving cars under the proposed ADS-Equiped Vehicle Safety, Transparency, and Evaluation Program, or AV STEP.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s acting administrator, Ann Carlson, told the Automated Road Transportation Symposium audience of business leaders, government officials, and academics, “This is a new and exciting opportunity for all of us.” She stated that NHTSA intends to publish a notice of proposed rulemaking on AV STEP this fall.
The planned AV STEP offers an alternative regulatory route to the road, one without the limitations on the maximum authorized number of vehicles, rather than replacing the exemption-request process.
The primary lobbying group for the auto industry, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, hailed Wednesday’s decision as “an important innovation policy development.”
General Motors, in particular, might benefit significantly from introducing AV STEP. The automaker asked for an exception for its Cruise Origin robotaxi in February 2022, but the Department of Transportation has yet to decide.
The Origin, which lacks controls for a human driver, will be produced in large quantities by GM at Factory Zero, its unique EV assembly facility. But attempts to expand quickly have been hampered partly by a lack of regulatory certainty.
However, in exchange for widespread deployments permitted under the new program, the EPA wants self-driving tech companies to contribute data on ongoing operations.
Should several businesses engage, NHTSA would have the chance to advance its knowledge of automated driving through data gathered from real-world deployments, which could be used to guide the development of autonomous vehicle regulations.