The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has proposed a number of changes to current regulations for autonomous vehicles in an effort to speed up the development and deployment of the emerging technology.
According to Reuters, the NHTSA is seeking to have 11 different safety standards rewritten, all of which pertain to the design and presence of traditional manual vehicle controls (ie. steering wheel, pedals). If approved, the move will revise “the requirements and test procedures to account for the removal of manually-operated driving controls,” in autonomous vehicles. The public will be able to read and comment on the proposal before it is finalized by the safety agency.
“This proposal seeks public comment on the Department’s efforts to improve safety and update rules that no longer make sense such as requiring manual driving controls on autonomous vehicles,” U.S. Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, said in a statement released this week.
General Motors approached the NHTSA in December about obtaining a petition that would allow it to test up to 2,500 driverless cars without steering wheels or pedals on public streets. At the time, the NHTSA said it was “crawling through” the petitions carefully to ensure today’s autonomous vehicles are, at the very least, as safe as human-operated vehicles.
Rules pertaining to occupant protection, steering controls, glazing materials, door locks, seating systems, side-impact protection, roof crush resistance and child restraint anchorage systems will all be reviewed as part of the NHTSA’s proposal. Some of the changes relate to the deployment of driverless delivery vehicles that will not have any occupants on board, which is why laws pertaining to items such as occupant protection and child restraint systems will be reviewed.
The Center for Auto Safety, a consumer advocate group and non-profit, hit back at NHTSA over the proposal this week, saying it should not “remove regulatory safeguards for technology even DOT acknowledges has not been proven and may in fact be unsafe.”
But NHTSA Acting Administrator James Owens believes rewriting current safety standards will expedite the deployment and AVs and eventually help save lives.
“With more than 90 percent of serious crashes caused by driver error, it’s vital that we remove unnecessary barriers to technology that could help save lives,” Owens said. “We do not want regulations enacted long before the development of automated technologies to present an unintended and unnecessary barrier against innovation and improved highway safety.”
GM debuted its first production-ready AV, the Cruise Origin, earlier this year. The vehicle, which has no steering wheel or pedals, will enter production at its Detroit-Hamtramck plant in late 2022. Cruise plans to use the Origin to operate a driverless, Uber-style ride-hailing service, which will likely launch in San Francisco before expanding to other markets.