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Autonomous Vehicle Policy Talks

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Jan. 27, 2021—Autonomous vehicles are sometimes advertised as, “self-driving,” but if they are in fact driving themselves, then who makes the rules? 

During the Consumer Technology Association’s recent Consumer Electronics Show, industry experts from Toyota, Waymo, and federal transportation agencies virtually discussed rulemaking when it comes to autonomous vehicles. 

Finch Fulton, the deputy assistant director for policy at the U.S. Department of Transportation, said the importance of collaboration and transparency cannot be overemphasized during both the planning and deployment processes.   

“We have to learn along the way so it is critical for industry partners to share what they’re doing and what they’re not doing,” he said. 

Rachel Maclean, minister for the U.K.’s Department of Transport, said across the pond they are looking at regulatory safety framework. 

“We need to put the time in now to make sure we get the fundamentals right,” she said. 


Safety Strategies 

The U.K. aims to be the safest place in the world to deploy autonomous technology, Maclean said. Currently, the country is working to develop testing infrastructure, investing over $2.5 million to create an “ecosystem” of testing environments, said Maclean. 

Another way the U.K. is working to ensure safety is through the use of CAV PASS, a safety and assurance system for connected and autonomous vehicles. CAV PASS, which was first rolled out in 2019, aims to secure vehicles from cyber attacks before the testing process and before the sale of the vehicle. 

In the U.S., Finch said testing for autonomous vehicles varies by state, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has ongoing initiatives to gather data nationwide. 

NHTSA’s Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing (AV TEST) initiative collects voluntarily-submitted on-road testing data, which Finch said, can be accessed by first responders, law enforcement, and the public. 

David Quinalty, head of federal policy and government affairs for Waymo, said delays in technology advancements brought on by the pandemic have provided policymakers with a rare opportunity: time. 

“Right now, [policymakers] have the time they need to work on getting the policies right,” he said. 


Toyota’s Approach

When it comes to autonomous driving, Toyota’s Director of Technology and Innovation, Jamie Boone, said the automaker is focusing on three key areas: innovative research and deployment; advancing autonomous vehicle technology; and creating unique mobility solutions for everyone. 

“The future of transportation is all about mobility and innovation for all,” she said.

Toyota will delve into autonomous technology using a two-pronged approach, Boone said. The first, which she referred to as “guardian” will work to enhance the human driving experience, making it “better and safer.”

The second approach, “chauffeur” is a long-term goal that she said will feature high levels of automation with no driver needed. Boone noted that this approach will be especially helpful for individuals with mobility challenges. 


Who Are AVs For?

Autonomous vehicles can help individuals with a variety of mobility impairments, said Maclean, which is why it is important to emphasize how autonomous vehicles can provide opportunities for people with disabilities. 

“Consumer awareness is incredibly important,” said Boone,”Because at the end of the day we need people to understand the vehicles and trust them, or else,” she asked, “‘Who are we building them for?’”

Finch said the U.S. DOT is working on an inclusive design challenge to bring together innovators and people with disabilities to ensure that as the vehicles are being created, they are taking into account the public’s needs. 

“The majority of Americans will have a disability at some point in their lives,” Finch said, “Let’s plan now to take care of those people so we can have the future we want.” 

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