December 9, 2023
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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a notice of proposed rulemaking on March 17 to modernize numerous Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards while “clarifying ambiguities” in current occupant protection standards for vehicles equipped with automated driving systems or ADS that are designed without traditional manual controls.

[Above photo by Waymo.]

NHTSA said its NPRM seeks to adapt safety requirements to vehicles with ADS that lack traditional manual controls by revising the requirements and test procedures to account for the removal of manually operated driving controls.

For example, the new rules would apply frontal passenger protection requirements to the traditional driver seating position when a steering wheel is not present, and clarifies the applicability of some occupant protection standards to vehicles with no occupant compartment, such as occupant-less delivery vehicles.

James Owens

“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,” noted James Owens, NHTSA’s activing administrator, in a statement. “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.”

The agency stressed, however, that its rulemaking proposal would not change existing occupant protection requirements for traditional vehicles with manual controls.