Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Through its 5-star rating program, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration already provides a standardized evaluation of crash test performance that assesses the vehicle's core hardware. The same approach should now be taken for a vehicle's self-driving software.

The big picture: No jurisdiction has yet imposed an independent test to validate AV software. The challenges of designing such a test have themselves been a deterrent, as has the fear of stifling innovation, but AVs will have to undergo independent validation to earn confidence in their decision-making.

Details: It's not feasible to test every feature at once, or to declare that no vehicle is fit to be deployed until it can navigate any conceivable scenario.

  • Regulators could begin by, for example, independently validating the 100 most common scenarios, like merging into freeway traffic. A car that boasts level 4 or 5 autonomy but cannot handle these situations should not be on public roads.
  • Initial tests could be conducted in a virtual environment, making them easier to scale, replicate and develop in sophistication over time.
  • NHTSA, state regulators and AV providers could collaborate on the number and types of scenarios that should be tested for specific environments (highways, city streets, residential neighborhoods), known as operational design domains. AV providers would have input but would not be forced to share their internal training scenarios.

Between the lines: Regulators and consumers will place more confidence in third-party validation, and AV providers who opt for it will show that they are serious about safety. There are also risks associated with self-certification, like basing engineering decisions too heavily on a limited set of data or test requirements.

The bottom line: While we must be careful not to over-regulate AVs as they come to market amid intense global competition, taking clear steps toward independent validation is essential for safety and consumer trust.

Matthew Colford is general manager and head of policy at Applied Intuition, an AV simulation software company.

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Democratic lawyers are preparing to challenge any effort by President Trump to swap electors chosen by voters with electors selected by Republican-controlled legislatures. One state of particular concern: Pennsylvania, where the GOP controls the state house.

Why it matters: Trump's refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, together with a widely circulated article in The Atlantic about how bad the worst-case scenarios could get, is drawing new attention to the brutal fights that could jeopardize a final outcome.

Federal judge rules Trump administration can't end census early

Census workers outside Lincoln Center in New York. Photo: Noam Galai/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled late Thursday that the Trump administration could not end the 2020 census a month early.

Why it matters: The decision states that an early end — on Sept. 30, instead of Oct. 31 — would likely produce inaccuracies and thus impact political representation and government funding around the country.

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Data: Coders Against COVID; Note: Rhode Island and Puerto Rico did not meet minimum testing thresholds for analysis. Values may not add to 100% due to rounding; Cartogram: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Schools in Southern and Midwestern states are most at risk of coronavirus transmission, according to an analysis by Coders Against COVID that uses risk indicators developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The big picture: Thankfully, schools have not yet become coronavirus hotspots, the Washington Post reported this week, and rates of infection are lower than in the surrounding communities. But that doesn't mean schools are in the clear, especially heading into winter.

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