While the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) has funded various research and development programs relating to automated vehicles for many years, other aspects of federal policy are still fairly immature. Most of the established regulatory approaches either do not apply to automated driving systems, or it is unclear how they might apply. USDOT is diligently working to develop a rational national regulatory framework for automated vehicles, and as an interim step has published a series of advisory policy documents.

The first policy document, Accelerating the Next Revolution Roadway Safety, was published in September 2016. It was usurped in September 2017 by Automated Driving Systems 2.0: A Vision for Safety. This document was notable for its request and recommendation that developers of automated vehicles (AV) publish a voluntary safety self-assessment demonstrating how they ensure that they are not exposing the public to undue risk when testing automated driving systems.

USDOT policy was further elaborated in October 2018 with the publication of Automated Vehicles 3.0: Preparing for the Future of Transportation. This document incorporates by reference the previous (2.0) version and is notable in that it retains without modification the recommendations to developers to publish a voluntary safety assessment. As an advisory policy document, AV 3.0 does not affect formal legislation or regulation and emphasizes a non-regulatory and guiding role for the federal government at the current stage of development of AV systems. Nonetheless, it is an important resource, because it provides insight into how USDOT plans to approach regulatory issues more formally. AV 3.0 highlights a few key approaches for USDOT during the development phase of AV technologies as follows:


  • USDOT continues to rely on a self-assessment and self-certification approach as the way to balance and promote safety and innovation which was introduced previously in the AV 2.0. However, this time USDOT’s approach is more comprehensive than AV 2.0 as it seeks to incorporate inputs from industry and puts value on dialogue and communication among stakeholders.


  • USDOT is intended to clarify policy and roles. Within AV 3.0, the Department discourages any hampering state or local laws for testing and deployment of AVs. Also within the new policy, U.S. DOT emphasizes on the important roles of states and local agencies in the deployment of automated vehicle technologies and encourages them to consider the potential opportunities of AVs as well as their impacts on communities and local transportation systems. For example, AV 3.0 offer guidance for state agencies on training and licensing of test drivers as well as on driver engagement methods. The Department also encourages local governments to facilitate safe testing and operation of AVs on local streets.
  • USDOT supports partnership and collaboration opportunities with the department and also among stakeholders. AV 3.0 outlines opportunities for partnership and collaboration among the stakeholders and also with the USDOT. As a way of engaging stakeholders, the USDOT accepted comments on its new policy through December 3, 2018. Similarly, USDOT’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) requesting public comment regarding the possibility of a USDOT-led automated vehicle pilot program. Comments on NHTSA’s proposed pilot program were due by November 26, 2018.


  • USDOT is pursuing a unified approach to AV technology development among its operating administrations. The AV 3.0 guidelines outline the primary authorities and policy issues for NHTSA, FMCSA, FHWA, and FTA.

Source: U.S. DOT AV 3.0

Within the AV 3.0 policy statement, USDOT defines the federal approach to shaping policy for AVs based on six principals that guide USDOT programs and policies and five implementation strategies. The six automation principals are:

  1. Prioritize safety
  2. Remain technology neutral
  3. Modernize regulations
  4. Encourage a consistent regulatory and operational environment
  5. Prepare proactively for automation
  6. Protect and enhance the freedoms enjoyed by Americans

To help the department to put the automation principals into action via the AV 3.0 policy document, USDOT has defined five main implementation strategies:

  1. Encourage stakeholder engagement
  2. Provide best practices and policy consideration for State and local governments
  3. Support the development of voluntary technical standards
  4. Conduct informative and targeted technical research
  5. Encourage and support regulatory modernization

This policy framework “describes the department’s strategy to address the existing barriers to safety innovation and progress” and also outlines the Department’s guidance on important policy issues and introduces areas for collaboration among stakeholders. Also, in AV 3.0, the USDOT states that it plans to take some specific regulatory actions in the future. Amongst those actions:

  • NHTSA is preparing an advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPRM) regarding how to adopt federal safety standards to apply to automated vehicles.
  • FMCSA is finalizing an ANPRM to establish a framework for discussing how automated driving technology installed in commercial vehicles should be regulated.
  • NHTSA is considering streamlining the process to apply for an exemption to existing federal safety standards.
  • USDOT will interpret references to “driver” and “operator” in existing regulatory language to include automated driving systems.
  • FHWA will update the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD)—a manual of design guidelines used by owners and operators of transportation infrastructure.

Aside from policy guidelines, the AV 3.0 document also directly or indirectly responds to some of the questions that have been circulating in the automotive industry, such as:

  • USDOT no longer recognizes the designation of ten USDOT Automated Vehicles Proving Grounds (announced on January 19, 2017)
  • USDOT does not advocate for any particular V2I technologies
  • On the way toward achieving fully automated vehicles technologies, USDOT will support voluntary, consensus-based, flexible, and adaptable technical standards as much as possible.
  • USDOT envisions an environment in which automated vehicles operate safely along with conventional driving systems and other road users.
  • USDOT preserves the authority to establish new vehicle safety standards that allow for Innovative automated vehicle design (e.g., vehicles without pedals, steering wheels, or even mirrors)

The Center for Automotive Research has been involved with analyzing the federal and state policies and regulations related to testing, validation, and implementation of connected and automated vehicles technologies and will welcome opportunities to work with all the stakeholders on this topic.