Earlier this month, U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao announced at the CES gadget show in Las Vegas new autonomous vehicle (“AV”) guidelines which rely on voluntary standards, to the disappointment of auto safety advocates who have called for specific regulations.

The new guidelines, “AV 4.0“, expand on previous iterations of AV guidelines. The last update, AV 3.0, was released in October 2018.

Chao advised that the new guidelines, a joint effort between the Transportation Department and White House, would promote U.S. leadership in developing new technologies. “It recognizes the value of private sector leadership in AV research, development and integration,” she remarked at the CES show.

But auto safety advocates and the National Transportation Safety Board (“NTSB”) have criticized that AV 4.0 fails to adequately protect public safety. NTSB, which investigates crashes and proposes safety regulations, has previously criticized another federal agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”), for failing to regulate AV testing on roads. NHTSA is the government’s road safety agency and part of Chao’s department.

NTSB has also criticized that existing voluntary safety reports fail to hold auto makers accountable. “The manufacturers are not going to be objective in evaluating their own safety assessments,” NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at a Senate hearing in November 2019. “There needs to be a federal look at these assessments to make sure that they are done properly,” he proposed.

While AV 4.0 states that the U.S. government “will promote voluntary consensus standards,” there are few details on what the standards should say. According to the new guidelines, “Voluntary consensus standards can be validated by testing protocols, are supported by private sector conformity assessment schemes, and offer flexibility and responsiveness to the rapid pace of innovation.”

Chao stated that the new guidelines would unify work on AVs across 38 federal departments and agencies and establish a list of government principles. Those principles include (cyber)security, privacy, protecting users and communities, promoting efficient markets by protecting intellectual property and modernizing regulations, and facilitating coordinated standards and policies.

Auto safety advocates have criticized, however, that the guidelines offer few specifics on how the U.S. will accomplish these goals.

AV 4.0 also states that the government will enforce existing laws to ensure companies do not make deceptive claims about the capabilities or limitations of AV technology.

The guidelines will be published in the Federal Register, followed by a public comment period.


Joseph Falcone
Joseph Falcone
Partner, Dispute Resolution, New York
+1 917 542 7805
Angela Chen
Angela Chen
Associate, Dispute Resolution, New York
+1 917 542 7837