The Fuse

Stringent Demands of AV START Prioritize Road Safety

by Kristen Hernandez and Amitai Bin-Nun | December 13, 2018

As the 115th Congress draws to a close, there has been a renewed push in the Senate to pass the AV START Act. This legislation, if enacted, could accelerate the introduction of autonomous vehicles (AVs) on the nation’s roadways. Advocates of the bill are hoping to be able to move it before the 115th Congress ends on January 3.

However, the legislation is facing opposition from critics who claim it is a deregulatory bill that jeopardizes the safety of American roadways. Some interest groups have circulated letters criticizing the revised legislation and stating their belief that, amongst other criticisms, the proposed government oversight is insufficient. On the other hand, proponents of the legislation have argued that it would both accelerate the creation of a federal framework and put in place an interim framework where there currently is none.

Yet contrary to the claims of critics who have characterized the bill as taking a laissez faire attitude to roadway safety, SAFE analysis finds that the passage of AV START would lead to a blizzard of regulatory proceedings over the next few years. The bill contains 27 sections, covering topics ranging from AV safety to cybersecurity to consumer education and more. While a more detailed analysis of the Senate Commerce Committee’s 2017 version of the legislation can be found here, we wished to focus on the actions that must be taken by regulators over the next decade or so if the bill were to pass.

Our analysis found that the passage of AV START would provide stakeholders with multiple opportunities to weigh in and shape standards for AVs. As shown in the chart below, AV START would impose no less than 14 new requirements for industry and regulators in the six years after its passage—eight of which are explicitly directed toward AVs. Five of those requirements are actually “rulemakings” which will each likely result in several additional requirements, of which three are AV-specific. To illustrate the extent of regulatory activities that would result, we mapped out what AV START requires.

Source: SAFE analysis

We counted a total of 41 regulatory events required by the legislation. To help stakeholders understand the timeline and progression, we grouped them into four categories: Interim Regulatory Framework, Rulemaking, Cybersecurity and Data, and Other. Interim Regulatory Framework includes temporary provisions such as a new exemption process for AVs and a requirement for safety evaluation reports. Rulemaking is the process by which new safety and other requirements for AVs will be created using advisory boards drawn from stakeholder communities. Cybersecurity and Data involves actions related to cybersecurity risk mitigation and data privacy. Other includes a variety of actions related to child safety, headlamp regulations, and a study on potential effects on infrastructure and energy. The timeline showing these events is presented in the chart above. More details on the regulatory timeline that AV START would create can be found in the linked spreadsheet.

Ultimately, regulators will have a great deal of requirements to impose should a bill similar to AV START become law. While NHTSA already has some regulatory processes in place around AVs and could start others even absent legislation, the adoption of AV START would legally require and accelerate building this extensive framework. While some may argue that these regulations ought to be stricter, the visual and sheer number of requirements encoded in AV START demonstrates its primary function as a regulatory bill, laying out a set of requirements that the autonomous vehicle space is currently lacking and paving the way for our driverless future.