On April 8, NSPE Executive Director Mark Golden presented NSPE’s position and provided input on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposed rulemaking for autonomous vehicles at a national hearing convened in Washington, DC at the Department of Transportation. In late January, the Department of Transportation announced that NHTSA would develop and publish federal regulations for deployment of fully autonomous vehicles within six months.
NSPE has been a leading advocate on the need to place the public health, safety, and welfare first by requiring a licensed professional engineer to play a key role in the development, testing, and safety certification of autonomous vehicles. Recognizing the promise of autonomous vehicles, NSPE also recognizes the major engineering, technological, and ethical limitations that have yet to be addressed as part of the rulemaking process.
In NSPE’s statement to NHTSA, Golden said that “as impressive and encouraging as the speed of development and innovation in controlled environments have been, there is a significant work to be done before achieving the ultimate goal of an environment in which human-operated and autonomous vehicles can safely share the roadways.” He pointed out that many factors—human, weather, road conditions, situational, and others—are common and also rapidly changing and highly unpredictable. These factors can instantly create hazardous conditions with zero tolerance for a failed or delayed response.
Golden added: “The development and introduction of autonomous vehicles is as historic and epoch-making as the first introduction of motorized vehicles themselves in the 19th century. Accordingly, autonomous vehicles and intelligent road systems are areas of innovation that require attention now, while the new technology is still emergent. And that attention should come from people with not only appropriate technical expertise, but also the ethical and safety accountabilities of licensed professional engineers.”