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The agency has clarified that automakers to not need to seek formal approval to test and deploy Level 3-5 autonomous systems.

The US Department of Transportation has issued guidance aimed at clearing the way for advanced autonomous systems.The 'Vision for Safety 2.0' outlines voluntary best practices focused on SAE Level 3 - 5 systems, ranging from current advanced driver assistance systems to fully self-driving cars that do not require a human behind the wheel.

Most of the provisions appear to be common sense guidelines that the industry already follows when implementing new technology. Some provide important clarification of issues that are not explicitly outlined in regulations, however, such as appropriate vehicle behavior when a Level 3 system needs a human driver to take over but the person behind the wheel isn't paying attention to the road.

"The system should continue to mitigate manageable risks," the guidance says. "A minimal risk condition will vary according to the type and extent of a given failure, but may include automatically bringing the vehicle to a safe stop, preferably outside of an active lane of traffic."

The DoT recommends industry-wide transparency and deeper collaboration with regulators as automakers continue to create autonomous technologies and develop advanced validation methods.

Perhaps most importantly, the documents outline things automakers will not be required to do before testing and deploying autonomous technology. Regulators are apparently taking a laissez-faire approach, allowing advanced autonomous systems to be put on the market without first receiving specific government approval or completing standardized validation tests.

"[A Vision for Safety] is a non-regulatory approach aimed at promoting automated vehicle safety innovation that promises not only to cut deaths and injuries on our roads, but their related costs, cut commuting time, and expand mobility options," the NHTSA says.

The safety regulator says crashes in 2010 alone cost $242 billion in economic losses, including nearly $58 billion in lost workplace productivity, and an additional $594 million due to loss of life and decreased quality of life.