The introduction of a new national program will authorize the deployment of autonomous vehicles without conventional controls such as steering wheels or brake pads. The program, known as the ADS-Equipped Vehicle Safety, Transparency, and Evaluation Program (AV STEP), will allow businesses to deploy multiple self-driving cars. Ann Carlson, the acting administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), announced the program during the Automated Road Transportation Symposium. The AV STEP program will provide an alternative regulatory pathway that does not impose limitations on the maximum number of authorized vehicles, rather than replacing the current exemption-request process.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, the primary lobbying group for the auto industry, welcomed this decision as a significant development in innovation policy. General Motors, in particular, stands to benefit from the introduction of AV STEP, as the automaker has sought an exception for its Cruise Origin robotaxi. However, the Department of Transportation is yet to make a decision on GM’s request. The Cruise Origin, designed without controls for a human driver, is planned for large-scale production at GM’s Factory Zero. However, regulatory uncertainty has hindered its expansion efforts.
In exchange for the widespread deployments allowed under the new program, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires self-driving tech companies to share data on their ongoing operations. If multiple businesses participate, the NHTSA will have the opportunity to enhance its understanding of automated driving through real-world deployment data, which can guide the development of regulations for autonomous vehicles.