NHTSA Alters Safety Rules to Make Room for Self-Driving Cars

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【Summary】A new proposal by the NHTSA would modernize safety standards to allow companies and automakers to continue working on autonomous technology.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    May 05, 2020 6:10 AM PT
NHTSA Alters Safety Rules to Make Room for Self-Driving Cars

The federal government has been slow to accept autonomous vehicles, making automakers hold talks with agencies, like General Motors and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), to get the green light to develop vehicles without manual controls. It's a slow route with lots of bumps that diminishes how quickly companies and automakers can develop autonomous tech. To fix that, the NHTSA is slightly modifying its safety rules to account for autonomous systems.

Regulations For Cars Without Controls

In what the NHTSA calls a "historic first step for the Department in its efforts to remove unnecessary and unintended barriers to innovative designs," the government agency is looking to change regulations to account for vehicles that don't have manual controls. While GM has built a vehicle without manual controls, other automakers and companies are following closely behind with vehicles that could be on the road very soon. Companies are also looking to rule changes that would help them avoid testing for driverless systems to advance.

As Car & Driver points out, the NHTSA is planning to change what it refers to as "200 series" of rules that are classified under the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards. That rulebook is used by automakers to ensure that their vehicles protect passengers inside in the case of an accident. But it goes well beyond that by requiring cars to crash in a specific manner. What companies like Waymo and Cruise are looking for from the changes are precise definitions that would make certifying autonomous vehicles much easier.

"If done correctly, this should help streamline manufacturers' certification processes, reduce certification costs, and minimize the need for future NHTSA interpretation or exemption requests," said the agency.

Everyone's A Passenger

Apparently, Car & Driver states that the words "driver," "driver's," and "driving" are irking the companies and now the NHTSA will make it readily apparent if it's referring to humans or autonomous systems. A new term, "manually operated driving controls," will also be added to help make guidelines clearer.

While some of the rules will be altered, the NHTSA still wants autonomous vehicles to meet strict crash tests. The outlet states that the agency wants to apply its front passenger's crash-test standards to all seats in an autonomous vehicle, since everyone in a driverless car is a passenger.

Don't worry, things aren't changing all that much. Instead, it's more of a way for the NHTSA to ensure companies don't feel like they can't come out with new tech because of current safety regulations. "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," said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.

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