US unveils 15-point checklist for driverless car safety

Self-driving car makers have been handed a 15-point checklist to ensure safety, as the US government agency tasked with looking after the country's road safety issues its guidelines on autonomous vehicles.

The policy is designed to ensure self-driving cars are safe while allowing innovation to continue.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Agency published its Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, which includes performance guidelines for self-driving cars as well as a model policy for individual states to follow. The policy document is open for public comment over the next couple of months.

The document marks the adoption of the SAE scale in favour of the agency's own scale. The SAE Scale rates the level of autonomous driving from zero (where a human is in control of everything) to five (complete automation). Cars using technology such as Tesla's Autopilot as well as lane assist fall into SAE Scale level two to three.

There is a 15-point checklist for car makers to fill out to help regulators make sure due process is followed on safety. There are four major sections: Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles; Model State Policy; NHTSA's Current Regulatory Tools; and Modern Regulatory Tools.

The Model State Policy makes clear what division of responsibilities between state and federal entities. The aim of policy is to maintain a consistent framework for states for testing and deploying vehicles.

"As the digital era increasingly reaches deeper into transportation, our task at the US Department of Transportation is not only to keep pace, but to ensure public safety while establishing a strong foundation such that the rules of the road can be known, understood, and responded to by industry and the public," said US Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.

He added that the agency will conduct significant public outreach to inform its next update to this policy.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.