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Out on the road: The importance of applying industry safety standards to AV development

August 12, 2021 | 4 min. read

By the Aurora Team


Safety is at the core of everything we do at Aurora—from how we test and develop, to the culture we create and the products we are working to deploy. A key part of our approach to safety is that we openly share components of our safety work with the industry, as we did with our Safety Case Framework. We also share our deep safety expertise by participating in working groups and committees across various Industry Standards Development Organizations (SDOs). 

Industry standards related to vehicle safety have a long history in the automotive industry. Whether it’s seat belts, airbags, tires, or crash avoidance features, it’s often the case that important safety features are added to vehicles well before they are subject to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or there’s an applicable industry standard or federal guidance. Similarly, industry standards and best practices in the motor vehicle space are being developed today that are shaping the foundation for how self-driving systems are safely developed and deployed. 

These best practices and industry standards have an important impact on how we work at Aurora. As we continue to say, it’s important that our partners and the public understand our approach to safety, so today we are sharing an overview of some of the industry groups we are participating in and how we’re applying those learnings in our everyday work. 

An overview: Industry standards development organizations

There are many industry standards activities underway with a number of organizations addressing different challenges of self-driving—from vehicle operator training to Operational Design Domain (ODD) language, to behavioral assumptions of other road users. Each of these organizations and their associated activities are playing a role in the current testing and deployment of self-driving vehicles. 

Given the complexity of the challenge we are collectively tackling, we don’t think there will be a single standard that addresses all aspects of safety for self-driving vehicles, so we’ve taken an active role in a number of organizations. Below are the organizations we think have the potential to positively impact safety in the industry. We’re excited to work with them to help safely deploy self-driving vehicles.

Underwriters Laboratory (UL)
  • UL 4600 - Addresses safety principles and processes for evaluating fully autonomous products requiring no human driver supervision (Level 4-5).

SAE International
  • SAE On-Road Automated Driving Committee - Focuses on taxonomies and definitions for operational design domains, verification and validation, system behaviors, reference architecture, operational safety metrics, and test facility safety practices.

  • SAE Truck and Bus Automation Safety Committee - Focuses on all levels of automation for trucks and buses including test procedures, multi-vehicle systems, tractor-trailer coupling, and wireless communications.

SAE Industry Technologies Consortia
  • SAE Automated Vehicle Safety Consortium (AVSC) - Addresses a range of topics related to the safe deployment of automated driving systems including metrics, vehicle operator, data collection, safety management systems, vulnerable road users, and safety assessment.

IEEE Standards Association 
  • IEEE P2846 - Identifies a set of kinematic parameters to create potential behavioral assumptions for other road users that may be used in on-board or off-board safety-related models as appropriate.

ITS America 
  • Automated Vehicle Standing Advisory Committee - Focuses on developing and advocating policies and regulatory frameworks to facilitate the safe testing, deployment, and integration of highly automated vehicles into the surface transportation system.

Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance
  • Inspection Program - Focuses on developing recommended approaches for commercial motor vehicle inspections including self-driving vehicles.

ATA Technology and Maintenance Council
  • Automated Vehicle Study Group - Focuses on improving commercial motor vehicle equipment and technology regulations by developing recommended engineering and maintenance practices specific to automated commercial motor vehicles.

Applying industry best practices in on-road testing

We continually evaluate the collective wisdom of the industry captured in these emerging standards and best practices to support the highest levels of safety when testing on public roads. Our Safety Case Framework is informed by these standards and goes a step further — it actually requires that we engage with industry groups to develop safety best practices. In the list below, we highlight examples where we have looked to principles developed through industry standards to guide our safety-related work, and to specific technical areas where emerging industry standards have informed our approach to testing and deployment.


Safety Promotions, Risk Management, and Assurance all work together to reinforce a positive safety culture, which is a key part of a Safety Management System.

  • Vehicle Operator Hiring, Retention, Training, and Oversight - Our vehicle operator training program includes both initial training on the vehicle platform and the Aurora Driver as well as periodic evaluations over time, all of which are key parts of the AVSC and SAE best practices for testing with a vehicle operator. 
  • First Responder Interaction Program - Our first responder interaction plan addresses all key elements identified in the AVSC best practice (e.g., ODD description, towing, firefighting, etc.) that are applicable to testing with a vehicle operator.
  • Safety Management System (SMS) Implementation - Our SMS establishes the four key components of Safety Policy, Safety Risk Management, Safety Assurance, and Safety Promotion called out in the AVSC informational report as well as in various airline industry standards.
  • Safety Metrics - We continue to explore and develop safety metrics that are promising in their ability to provide a signal on safety performance at the organizational level and at the product level.  Further, some of these, align with AVSC, SAE, and UL best practices related to safety metrics.
  • Operational Design Domain Lexicon - Our internal ODD taxonomy incorporates the key elements of weather, roadway, and road users identified in both the AVSC and British Standards Institution best practices on ODD.
  • Aurora Driver System Capabilities Testing and Evaluation - Our process for developing and testing the capabilities of the Aurora Driver looks to AVSC’s elemental behavioral competencies relevant to our ODD.

Applying best practices through our development progress

Safety is an ongoing and iterative process, and best practices and standards will continue to evolve and mature. Through our progress toward deploying Aurora Horizon and Aurora Connect, additional standards and best practices will be developed and published and existing practices will be revisited. For example, best practices around passenger-emergency trip interruption and fallback operations will need to be developed, interpreted, and applied to our ride-hailing products. We will continue to review, interpret, and apply relevant best practices and standards across our organization as a part of developing our tailored safety cases for trucking and ride-hailing, and share our progress as part of our Voluntary Safety Self-Assessment. 

Looking Ahead

We anticipate that, much like in the past, voluntary industry standards for self-driving technologies will eventually inform the development of specific federal guidance and/or Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards on those technologies. Being involved in the development of standards will be an important step in the eventual federal regulation of the industry. We support NHTSA’s current role in the regulation of motor vehicle safety and its efforts to develop a technology-neutral approach to guiding and regulating self-driving technology. 

While speed matters, it can’t come at the expense of safety, and the current and growing set of self-driving safety standards provide a solid foundation for developers to interpret and apply. As we look to the future, we encourage the industry to leverage these standards to help make public road testing safer for everyone. 

the Aurora Team

Delivering the benefits of self-driving technology safely, quickly, and broadly.