California's public consultation closed on 25 April on the US state's proposed rules on the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles on public roads, including those not requiring drivers. The state authorities will now review the feedback and decide on the final regulations.
IHS Markit Perspective:
- Significance: The period for public comment on California's latest draft rules on autonomous vehicles, including on testing and deployment without drivers, ended on 25 April. IHS Markit is reviewing the feedback from automakers and start-ups in two reports, of which this is the second.
- Implications: California's rules will only apply to testing and deployment within the state's boundaries, but the size of the local economy and state's influence in automotive regulations nationally give the proposed regulations wider importance. The rules may influence the content and procedures of other states' and countries' regulations.
- Outlook: California's state authorities will now review the feedback and ultimately issue final rules. This is the state's second draft regulatory proposal, after the first was criticised as too restrictive, preventing autonomous vehicles from operating without drivers ready to take over. The recently concluded feedback round has uncovered issues related to disengagement reporting, liability, event data recorders and accident data collection, how to address co-ordination with local governments, and the process of submitting updates.
The US state of California's public consultation period on draft rules on the deployment of self-driving vehicles on public roads ended on 25 April, after a 45-day review period following their publication. IHS Markit has reviewed the feedback on the proposals from automakers, start-ups, and technology companies and has prepared two overviews of key topics, of which this is the second.
Apple has asked that the disengagement reporting required be expanded to include "successfully prevented crashes and traffic rule violations" and proposes that disengagement be defined as "an unexpected event or failure that requires the safety driver to take control of the vehicle in order to prevent a crash or traffic violation". The tech giant believes situations that should not count as disengagements are where operational constraints, such as a construction zone, causes the system to disengage itself or the safety driver to disengage the system; system errors, such as a sensor dropout that does not affect safe operation of the system; discretionary decisions by the safety driver; tests that are planned to result in a disengagement; or the end of the test. Apple also wants the proposed requirement to describe the type of incident that might have happened if the driver had not disengaged the autonomous system to be removed, noting, "It requires speculation about future events that have not occurred."
Volvo believes the requirements should specify only serious incidents to be reported, and that incidents should only need to be reported on vehicles ready for sale and not prototypes. Electric vehicle (EV) start-up Nio has suggested that if automakers are required to disclose planned test disengagements, as well as safety-related disengagements, it could result in a negative perception. Nio agrees with reporting safety-related disengagements, but not planned test disengagements. Toyota has raised the concern that the level of information requested for disengagements could cause the revealing of confidential business information (CBI), and has requested that the state's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) protect the information submitted as CBI or allow automakers to hold back information that may be proprietary (for example, disclosing the number of disengagements or miles travelled could provide status of development to competitors).
Waymo, formerly the Google self-driving car project, was among those commenting on liability, arguing that the proposed language of the draft rules is inconsistent with existing California law, and that the proposals "modify liability for manufacturers in a manner that is overbroad and unnecessary". California's existing law makes it a comparative fault state ‒ a determination is made regarding percentage of fault. The proposed language simply says the manufacturer of the autonomous car would always be fully liable, regardless of fault. On liability, Volvo reinforced that it "assumes the liability of an incident or crash where the control has been handed over to the vehicle in a correct manner and, thus, the cause of the crash is due to vehicle error". In a state such as California, with comparative fault, it is possible that the existing law would leave Volvo liable in any case. Volvo's assumption of liability is limited to vehicle error.
General Motors (GM) has also commented on liability, taking a stance similar to Waymo's, and suggests the liability issues conform with state law. The current language, GM states, "could be read to trigger strict liability if a manufacturer's autonomous test vehicle were found to be at fault to any extent in any collision… Strict liability, imposed under these circumstances, would be unduly punitive, inconsistent with state law, and would discourage testing of autonomous vehicles in California."
Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen (VW) have noted that the proposed liability language does not specify how an at-fault determination is made, and the manufacturer or a court with jurisdiction would make the at-fault determination. Toyota has noted that the liability language seems to "be assumed that the operation of autonomous test vehicles will always be done by the manufacturer…a manufacturer should not be liable for the operation of an autonomous test vehicle done by another entity". This is a particularly important point for Toyota, as Waymo and Apple are among the companies that have used the Lexus RX450h as a base for installing their self-driving technology; Toyota is not involved in the deployment of that technology. Online transportation network Uber has used the Ford Fusion for testing, and such a concern could be valid in its case as well. GM is planning to allow affiliated ride-sharing company Lyft to deploy autonomous Bolt EVs eventually, which would be another situation in which there would be a gap between the manufacturer and the testing entity.
Event data recorder and accident data collection
The Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) has assembled an EDR task force to determine what information needs to be captured by autonomous vehicles, and Volvo suggests that California align with the task force's findings, relative to data collected and stored. Uber has echoed that suggestion, recommending that the DMV "allow the industry a standard-setting organizations to organically develop the right standards for recording and accessing sensor data from collisions". Uber contends that the requirement for the commercially available tool for extracting the data is premature and that reaching the level of standardisation to support that is years away. Uber also notes that the five-second post-crash rule "imposes a broad standard without regard to the types of sensor data, or the length of post-collision recording, that may be most helpful in understanding collisions". GM, however, has simply asked for clarification on what data should be collected and reported, noting that raw data is significantly less informative than processed data. Mercedes and VW, along with indicating that they hope California does adopt whatever the SAE team ultimately arrives at, suggest that the wording relevant to recording times be adjusted to capture all data necessary to reconstruct an incident, noting that the post-crash five-second demand goes beyond existing California law.
Ford has cautioned that more work is needed to define what data should be collected and to develop the commercially available tool for collection of that data. While Volvo and Uber have recommended adopting the standards under development by the SAE, Ford recommends the DMV work with the stakeholders to resolve open issues. Ford also suggests striking out the language that stipulates the data recorder captures functions controlled by the autonomous technology, as there may be other relevant data points that might be missed with this narrow definition.
Co-ordination with local governments and authorities
The proposed regulations would require participants looking to test a vehicle on public roads to co-ordinate with local governments, including cities. Several respondents believe the requirement would be cumbersome and make developing a testing protocol or route extremely difficult, and have asked for clarification on what "co-ordinate" means in this case, including EV start-up Nio. Ford agrees with informing local authorities when their jurisdiction would be within an automaker's self-driving operational design domain, although the company proposes to strike the portion that automakers certify testing has been co-ordinated. Toyota also says notification is sufficient and that "co-ordination" is too broad and vague. Lyft has written, "We believe this language is ambiguous and that such ambiguity creates confusion and could lead to delays in the testing process." Peloton, the truck-platooning technology company, has also noted the potential difficulty in co-ordinating with local jurisdictions on programmes that include highways and interstate routes, "as those vehicles may rapidly pass through several counties and cities in a single afternoon, potentially spending only minutes within a particular city's limits".
Permits for AV testing updates
The draft regulations require annual software updates and any material changes to an autonomous vehicle's (AV) function would trigger a requirement for a new application for approval, with a 180-day waiting period. Ford notes, "Since automated vehicle technology is expected to evolve based on new learning from sharing data with other vehicles, it is possible that there could be multiple software updates within a year. When taken in context with the six-month waiting period for approval of a permit… there is a potential for a fleet to be grounded while awaiting the approval of a new application for deployment of autonomous vehicles". GM's statement notes, "Due to the 180-day minimum waiting period… this requirement could unintentionally encourage manufacturers to avoid characterizing a change as 'material' so as not to halt their programs for six months or more. In other words, this requirement could discourage the very transparency it is intended to foster." Lyft is also among those noting shortcomings in this area. GM and Ford have proposed solutions for improving this particular process point. Mercedes and VW have addressed the point as well, but suggest that the requirement should read that the manufacturer "agrees to provide updates if those operational design domains significantly change".
Outlook and implications
Overall, the automotive industry's response to the proposed regulations, which allow for testing of autonomous vehicles without a human driver inside, is positive. The next steps for the California DMV, the agency with jurisdiction on the issue, are to review the public comments and then deliver its final testing regulations to the state's Office of Administrative Law for approval. It is not clear how long this process will take.
Feedback on the draft proposals from most organisations was consistent with what IHS Markit knows about the industry's strategies and plans, including the voices looking to lift the restriction on vehicles weighing over 10,000 pounds, and Uber and Lyft focusing on alternative business models. Uber (after acquiring Otto) and Tesla have both been vocal about plans to develop commercial vehicle applications, and looking to deploy solutions for moving goods as well as people. VW and Mercedes-Benz, through their parent companies, have strong commercial vehicle divisions, including Daimler's Freightliner, which is already testing an autonomous vehicle solution. IHS Markit has also produced a special report looking into the impact of truck platooning and autonomous applications in that area.
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The above article is from IHS Markit Same-Day Analysis of automotive news, events and trends, and is a deliverable of the World Markets Automotive Service. The service averages thirty stories per day and also provides competitor and country intelligence. Get a free trial.