The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today published revised Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which account for autonomous vehicles that do not have traditional manual driving controls.
Previous occupant protection standards outlined in the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards include language that references traditional vehicle controls, such as steering wheels, pedals and other manual controls. This revision “updates the standards to clarify what is required of manufacturers when applying the standards to ADS-equipped vehicles without traditional manual controls,” making it clear that “vehicles with ADS technology must continue to provide the same high levels of occupant protection that current passenger vehicles provide,” the NHTSA rule said.
“The occupant protection standards are currently written for traditionally designed vehicles and use terms such as ‘driver’s seat’ and ‘steering wheel’, that are not meaningful to vehicle designs that, for example, lack a steering wheel or other driver controls,” the rule indicates.
Since previous Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards required a car to have manual controls, a driver’s seat and other traditional components, a vehicle like General Motors’ driverless Cruise Origin could not be legally deployed on public roads. The revision accounts for the existence of such vehicles, paving the way for GM to begin offering paid rides in the Origin to the American public.
The Origin is a battery-electric robotaxi developed by GM subsidiary Cruise. The vehicle will enter production at the GM Factory Zero plant in Michigan next year and will be deployed on public roads in the U.S. shortly after. Customers will be able to order and pay for a ride in the Cruise Origin from their smartphone, similar to other ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft.
Cruise recently sought NHTSA’s approval to begin building the Origin robotaxi, as well. Cruise says the vehicle “will help expand mobility options for seniors, people who are blind or have low vision, and other communities that have traditionally faced barriers in access to reliable transportation,” once it’s deployed next year.