Autonomous Vehicles

NSPE has been working on multiple fronts to promote and protect the public health, safety, and welfare in the development and deployment of autonomous vehicle technologies. Embracing its Grand Challenge to foster ethical innovation, the Society is taking action to give professional engineers a leading voice in ensuring that the same attention to safety and reliability that went into the built transportation infrastructure is incorporated into autonomous vehicles and smart transportation systems.

NSPE is collaborating with Congress, the Department of Transportation, state DMVs, state societies, and national organizations to take a comprehensive and informed approach to testing, development and deployment of autonomous vehicles, incorporating the key role of the licensed professional engineer. NSPE is impacting both federal and state legislation and regulations.

NSPE has been proactively involved in the rulemaking process at the federal level. Executive Director Mark Golden presented on NSPE’s position at a national hearing hosted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to gather input on developing Guidelines for the Safe Deployment and Operation of Automated Vehicle Safety Technologies. The NHTSA panel requested that NSPE also include in its formal submission the comments and guidance the Society provided to the California Department of Motor Vehicles as part of its recent rulemaking. NSPE also incorporated the Society’s related letter to the California PATH Program at UC Berkeley, which worked closely with the California DMV on the rulemaking. NSPE submitted its formal public comment in early May. NHTSA issued guidelines in September 2016 and a second version in September 2017. In its public statement following the release of these guidelines, which are not final rules and will continue to be reviewed, NSPE expressed its concern and disappointment that these guidelines leave major safety and ethical issues unaddressed.

In 2017, Congress has been working to pass comprehensive autonomous vehicle legislation. HR 3388 & S.B. 1885 would make the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration responsible for regulating self-driving cars, preempting state and local standards.  This legislation would allow automakers to deploy autonomous vehicles without first properly addressing the major safety, technological, and ethical implications. NSPE is working to ensure that these issues, particularly the need for independent certifications, recognition of the limits of the current technologies, and the ethical considerations in deploying such vehicles, are incorporated into legislation and regulations and considered as part of the next federal review of the guidelines, expected to take place next year.

NSPE’s Position

Because the development of autonomous vehicles will have profound impacts on the public health, safety and welfare, it is the position of NSPE that the testing and deployment of such technologies must include a licensed Professional Engineer. (NSPE Position Statement No. 1772—Autonomous Vehicles)

More on this issue

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NSPE Submits Formal Autonomous Vehicle Comment to Shape National Guidelines

NSPE Executive Makes Major Statement at National Autonomous Vehicle Hearing