Getting regulation right for driverless cars
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We are on the precipice of realizing a game-changing transformation in the relationship between car and driver and a reshaping of our transportation networks. With the emergence of connected vehicle technologies and the dawn of the autonomous vehicle era, regulators and policy makers need to prepare for the acceleration of new innovations, while industry must engage in the debate over an evolving regulatory environment that will shape our future.

The recent release of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) best practices for cybersecurity of modern vehicles is the latest effort by the United States Department of Transportation (DOT) to develop a framework for the safe deployment of autonomous vehicles. Among NHTSA’s suggested practices are expanding the sharing of auto cybersecurity knowledge, setting industry-based best practices and voluntary standards, developing new system solutions to the threat of external diversion of vehicles, determining the feasibility of minimum performance standards, and the gathering of research data that all businesses and NHTSA can use to develop policy and enforcement.


This report follows the late September release of NHTSA’s “Federal Automated Vehicles Policy,” which illustrated vehicle performance guidance for automated vehicles. That framework included basic guidance for manufacturers, developers, and other organizations. Best practices discussed included a 15 point “Safety Assessment” for the safe design, development, testing and deployment of automated vehicles, a model state policy presenting distinctions between Federal and State responsibilities for regulation, and a discussion outlining the DOT’s current regulatory tools that can be used to accelerate the safe development of connected vehicles.

These guidelines were seen as a crucial first step by the federal government to ensure the regulation of this groundbreaking and potentially life-saving industry is comprehensive without being overly burdensome. DOT Secretary Anthony FoxxAnthony Renard FoxxHillicon Valley: Uber, Lyft agree to take California labor win nationwide | Zoom to implement new security program along with FTC | Virgin Hyperloop completes first test ride with passengers Uber, Lyft eager to take California labor win nationwide Big Dem names show little interest in Senate MORE and NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind have made their intentions clear that piecemeal oversight and regulation is unacceptable, as are overbearing and prescriptive top-down mandates.

The inception of new vehicle technologies has the potential to reimagine transportation networks as we know them and is an issue that transcends partisan posture and ideological belief. This is a rare and unique opportunity for industry stakeholders, public safety advocates, and government officials to facilitate positive change and align their interests for the greater good.

U.S. traffic fatalities rose 10.4 percent in the first six months of 2016, in a continuance of an unfortunate trend that saw 35,092 lose their lives on American roads in 2015. Despite the Department of Transportation’s ambitious push for a “Vision Zero” world, no one will argue that driverless cars are the immediate panacea of public safety, but in a system where 94 percent of crashes are caused by human error, surely connected vehicle technology can provide us with better alternatives and outcomes.

Furthermore, the average vehicle is used only 4 percent of the time and parked the other 96 percent. We have built our communities and cities around the automobile, with up to 25 percent of the space in some urban areas dedicated to parking. New vehicle technologies represent the potential to entirely reshape the environment around us, turning parking lots into green space, housing, and small businesses; with the focus shifted to people instead of cars.

However, to realize the societal benefits of connected vehicles, it is imperative that we make the right choices in these early stages of regulation. The technology driving these efforts is expanding at exponential rates, and successes will be contingent upon setting the proper regulatory framework. More than ever we need government to promote safety, but preserve flexibility. An approach that secures our roadway safety but stimulates innovation will clear the path for inconceivable technological advances.

Gaining the public trust is also a critical factor for the successful integration of connected and autonomous vehicles into our daily lives. The need for broad public acceptance makes it crucial that the federal government develop appropriate guidelines. The right regulatory framework, combined with funding for research and testing, will inspire confidence in the safety of these technologies, whereas the wrong choices have the potential to dissuade public acceptance and slow down the progress of a rapidly growing industry.

Despite the lack of a clear and concise national framework for connected vehicles, there are countless companies that have been driving forward the innovations that will explode this burgeoning market. IHS Automotive forecasts that 55 percent of annual global new vehicle sales in 2020 will be vehicles that are connected, and 21 million vehicles with some form of autonomy will be sold in 2035. From Michigan to California and from Ford to Intel; the automotive and technology industries are already immersed in the business of creating connected vehicles.

More guidelines and regulations are expected in the coming months; varying from the allocation of spectrum for Dedicated Short Range Communications (DSRC) to oversight of V2I functions. As regulations move forward, it is important that federal regulators are engaging with industry stakeholders. This is an opportunity to develop regulations that reward safety and spur innovation. This is the time for the government to be vocal in their encouragement and investment of research and testing of these blossoming technologies.

Moving forward, the companies that will be most successful in the connected vehicle market will be those that effectively navigate the still fragmented regulations that exist, and work with government to shape the regulations to come. The federal government has made good positive steps toward fostering innovation on a national level, but further successes will be incumbent upon collaboration between stakeholders and public officials; with a premium on those who understand and help shape the rules of the road.

Steve Martinko is a government affairs counselor at global law and lobbying firm K&L Gates. He previously served as deputy staff director for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Brody Garland is a government affairs specialist and Peter Nelson is an associate at K&L Gates.

The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.