US approves rules for self-driving cars without steering wheels

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in the US has issued a historic rule that allows autonomous vehicles without steering wheels on public roads.

The new final rules from the Department of Transportation update the occupant protection Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards to account for vehicles that do not have the traditional manual controls. 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.

While this is a change to the language of the rules, this was restricting the rollout of vehicles with automated driving systems (ADS).

“Through the 2020s, an important part of USDOT’s safety mission will be to ensure safety standards keep pace with the development of automated driving and driver assistance systems,” said Pete Buttigieg, US Transportation Secretary. “This new rule is an important step, establishing robust safety standards for ADS-equipped vehicles.”

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“As the driver changes from a person to a machine in ADS-equipped vehicles, the need to keep the humans safe remains the same and must be integrated from the beginning,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator. “With this rule, we ensure that manufacturers put safety first.”

The rule updates the standards to clarify what is required of manufacturers when applying the standards to vehicles without traditional manual controls to provide the same high levels of occupant protection as current passenger vehicles. The NHTSA is actively engaged in monitoring and overseeing the safe testing and deployment of these vehicles.

NHTSA is also developing rules for safety standards for automatic emergency braking that help avoid crashes with other road users, including pedestrians.

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