The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued new occupant protection safety standards this week for shared autonomous vehicles like the Cruise Origin.
This new final ruling from the NHTSA mainly addresses outdated safety standards that referred to autonomous vehicles without traditional controls as having a “driver’s seat” with access to manual controls. Many shared vehicles do not have a traditional driver’s seat or manual controls, so the NHTSA safety standards have been amended to recognize this.
Additionally, all front seating positions in a shared autonomous vehicle will now be considered “front outboard passenger seats.” These seats will be subject to the same federal regulations as other front outboard passenger seats in traditional vehicles, including the placement of advanced airbags. Children may occupy these front seats in shared vehicles, so the standards will require AV manufacturers to install sensors that can detect when a child is in these seats and automatically deactivate the airbag.
While these new safety regulations are a step forward for the AV industry, the NHTSA recognizes that “additional research is necessary to understand and address different safety risks posed by vehicles with unconventional seating arrangements.”
This new ruling also addresses safety requirements for autonomous vehicles that are not designed to carry human passengers, such as delivery vehicles. These delivery AVs will no longer be subject to crashworthiness standards, as they will never have a human occupant inside of them.
“With more than 90% of serious crashes caused by driver error, it’s vital that we remove unnecessary barriers to technology that could help save lives,” NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens said in a prepared statement. “We do not want regulations enacted long before the development of automated technologies to present an unintended and unnecessary barrier to innovation and improved vehicle safety.”
The Alliance for Auto Innovation, an auto industry lobbying group that represents almost all major automakers in the U.S., applauded the new ruling.
“U.S. DOT’s action is consistent with the AV Roadmap that Auto Innovators released in December to highlight regulatory reforms that can help advance the testing and development of automated vehicles in the United States,” the alliance said.
The Center for Auto Safety, meanwhile, decried the effort, saying NHTSA’s “insistence of enabling the fast deployment of self-driving vehicles by amending rules written for cars with drivers, instead of recognizing the unique characteristics of autonomous technology, may be the fastest way to authorize the deployment of autonomous vehicles but it is not a consumer safety driven approach.”
These new regulations could help speed up the arrival of shared AVs like the Cruise Origin, clarifying previously murky safety guidelines for companies like Cruise as they work to make shared autonomous vehicles a reality. Cruise is hoping to put the Origin into production at GM’s Factory Zero plant within the next two years or so.
Click here to view the entire amended safety regulations.