In 2017, the U.S. Senate introduced the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act (the “AV START Act”). The main purpose of the Act is to establish an interim framework to facilitate the deployment of autonomous vehicles on U.S. roads and to permit the sale or commercialization of highly autonomous vehicles despite two key obstacles.

The first obstacle is that vehicles with automated driving systems cannot be certified as complying with some existing federal motor vehicle safety standards (for example, those predicated on a human driving the vehicle). The second is that there are no safety standards applicable to autonomous-vehicle design and performance. The Act aims to facilitate the ongoing development and deployment of autonomous-vehicle technologies while safety standards are developed.

To achieve this aim, the Act establishes the following framework:

  • Identify existing safety standards and test procedures that apply to or are predicated on a driver being a human and figure out how to revise them to accommodate an automated driving system as the driver.
  • Conduct rulemaking to revise existing standards and test procedures so they accommodate and permit compliance by automated driving systems. Separately, a technical committee is to be established to recommend, within five years, new standards that are necessary and appropriate to ensure automated-driving-system and highly automated-vehicle safety. NHTSA then would have a year to evaluate the recommendations and commence rulemaking for adopting those standards.
  • Amend the existing statute that allows for temporary exemptions that permit, on approval of NHTSA, the sale or introduction into interstate commerce of a limited number of a manufacturer’s vehicles for purposes of evaluating new motor vehicle safety features that do not comply with safety standards.  Under the amendment, if the safety feature is one that enables a highly automated vehicle or automated driving system, the manufacturer may be authorized to sell or introduce into interstate commerce up to 100,000 vehicles per year until new standards permit such features.
  • Because autonomous vehicle-related safety standards won’t exist for some time, establish an alternative short-term process for establishing that highly automated vehicle technologies are safe.  That process requires the submission by a manufacturer of a safety evaluation report (previously referred to as safety self-assessments) explaining how it considered and addressed certain safety-related issues or subjects relating to the design, function and operational characteristics of its automated driving system or highly automated vehicle before the vehicle is tested, sold or otherwise commercialized. Under existing NHTSA guidance, manufacturers are only “encouraged” to publish similar reports to the public.