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Autonomous Vehicles (AVs)

Automated vehicles (AVs) represent an emerging technology already providing consumer benefits for vehicle safety. It’s important that fire chiefs and personnel are up to date as growth and change in this technology and the regulations and standards that govern it will impact operations. This page summarizes key material to provide an overview of key info and links to more details from:

  • U.S. Department of Transportation
  • National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • Manufacturers (specific to safety and emergency response)

How is the U.S. DOT Preparing for Autonomous Vehicles?

U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) Autonomous Vehicles 3.0 Strategy
The IAFC recommends fire chiefs review the U.S. DOT AV 3.0 Strategy as an important starting point to understand how autonomous vehicles (AVs) will evolve and come to affect their daily operations. Released in October 2018, AV 3.0 provides a comprehensive overview of the regulatory environment governing autonomous vehicles and identifies the U.S. DOT's priorities as they approach this emerging technology.

The department's strategy pinpoints the following priorities, which encompass all modes of surface on-road transportation systems:

  1. Advancing multi-modal safety
  2. Reducing policy uncertainty
  3. Outlining a process for working with U.S. DOT

The U.S. DOT strongly believes that the AV 3.0 is the beginning of a new "national discussion" about our upcoming on-road surface transportation system.

Access the U.S. Department of Transportation AV 3.0 Strategy 

Access the U.S. Department of Transportation AV 4.0 Strategy (pdf)

Levels of Automation

The National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines the levels of automation in a vehicle, what the driver is capable of and how much human operation is required using the Society of Automotive Engineers' (SAE) Levels of Automation:

  • Level 0: No Automation Zero autonomy, the driver performs all tasks.
  • Level 1: Driver Assistance Vehicle is directed by the driver; however, some driving assistance features are included in the model.
  • Level 2: Partial Automation Driver must remain in control of the vehicle and its direction, although combined automated functions are available such as acceleration and steering.
  • Level 3: Conditional Automation Driver is needed but not mandatory. Driver must be ready to direct the vehicle at any moment in time.
  • Level 4: High Automation The vehicle can fulfill all driving functions under certain circumstances. The driver may have the option to guide the vehicle.
  • Level 5: Full Automation The vehicle can execute all driving tasks. The driver may have the option to direct the vehicle.

The Future of Automated Vehicles

NHTSA Automated Vehicles for Safety
Over the next few years the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will issue waivers and rules that will define how AVs impact your area. The IAFC recommends all fire and emergency service leaders review how NHTSA is implementing the AV 3.0 Strategy.

Learn more about how NHTSA is using its waiver authority and approaching AV regulation and safety standards: NHTSA Automated Vehicles for Safety.

Five Eras of 21st Century Vehicle Safety
Consumers have already experienced the benefits of automated safety features. Nowadays, vehicles can keep a driver from accidentally drifting into adjacent lanes or making unsafe lane changes. Some vehicles can communicate with one another or brake automatically when approaching another vehicle too quickly.

NHTSA refers to the five eras of safety when addressing vehicle safety in the 21st century:

  • 1950-2000: Safety/convenience features (e.g. cruise control, seat belts, anti-lock brakes)
  • 2000-2010: Advanced safety features (e.g. electronic stability, blind spot detection, forward collision warning, land departure warning)
  • 2010-2016: Advanced driver assistance features (e.g. rearview video systems; automatic, pedestrian automatic and rear automatic braking; red cross traffic alert; lane centering assist)
  • 2016-2025: Partially automated safety features (e.g. lane keeping assist, adaptive cruise control, traffic jam assist, self-park)
  • 2025 and beyond: Fully automated safety features (e.g. highway autopilot)

Through the six levels of driver assistance technology advancements, automatic driving will become a reality. A reality of self-driving cars is projected to have many benefits:

Safety 94% of crashes are due to human error. Automated vehicles have the potential to remove human error from an accident scenario, which will help protect drivers and save lives.

Economic and Societal Benefits By eliminating most motor vehicle crashes, automated vehicles are projected to greatly reduce expenses, including:

  • $242 billion in economic activity
  • $57.6 billion in lost workplace productivity
  • $594 billion caused by loss of life

Efficiency and Convenience Americans spent approximately 6.9 billion hours in traffic delays in 2014, cutting into important things such as time at work or with family, increasing fuel costs and increasing vehicle emissions. Automated vehicles would cut this cost with smother traffic flow.

Mobility In many parts of the U.S., employment and ability of the elderly or disabled to live independently is subject to the ability to drive. Automated vehicles can help address these issues. It's also suggested that automated vehicles could create employment opportunities for almost 2 million people with disabilities, creating jobs to help a specific community.

Testing the Safety of Automated Vehicles

Manufacturer documents go into detail on how an automated vehicle works and where various parts are located within the vehicle. Open information-sharing by industry allows first responders to be familiar with autonomous vehicles, helping adapt operations for response involving AVs.

The IAFC encourages first responders as well as the public to learn more about the safety of automated vehicles from their manufacturers.

Waymo has published the Waymo Fully Self-Driving Chrysler Pacifica: Emergency Response Guide and Law Enforcement Interaction Protocol (pdf), specifically designed to educate the emergency response community.

The Waymo Safety Report and First Responders Report explains their processes for testing AV technology so the vehicle is safe. The report addresses behavioral functional, crash, operational and non-collision safety. Waymo says they undergo a multi-step test and validation process with their automated vehicles. The company reports having a sequence of how they approach security, which includes building verifiable software and systems, encrypting and verifying channels of communication, building redundant security measures, limiting communication between critical systems, providing timely software updates, and modeling and prioritizing threats.

General Motors
The General Motors 2018 Self-Driving Safety Report (pdf) is an informative safety report designed for public consumption.

Staff Liaisons

Brandon Allen, IAFC Government Relations Manager

Ken LaSala, Director, Government Relations and Policy

  • Topics:
    • Technology
    • Operations
    • Featured Communications & Technology
    • Department Administration
  • Resource Type:
    • Report/ publication
    • Reference
  • Organizational Author:
    • External
    • IAFC

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