WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. regulators on Thursday issued a final rule eliminating the need for self-driving car makers to equip fully self-driving cars with manual driving controls to meet crash standards. There are currently no fully self-driving cars on sale.
Automakers and tech companies face significant hurdles in deploying unmanned autonomous driving system (ADS) vehicles as safety standards set decades ago assume people are in control.
Last month, General Motors and its self-driving technology arm, Cruise, applied to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for permission to build and deploy driverless cars without human controls, such as steering wheels or brake pedals.
The rule amends provisions to assume the vehicle “will always have a driver’s seat, steering wheel and accompanying steering column, or only one front outboard passenger seating position”.
“For vehicles designed to be operated only by the ADS, manual driving controls are logically unnecessary,” the agency said.
The new rules, first proposed in March 2020, emphasize that self-driving cars must provide the same level of occupant protection as human-driven cars.
“As drivers in ADS-equipped vehicles transition from humans to machines, the need to ensure human safety remains the same and must be integrated from the start,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Steven Cliff. .”
NHTSA rules say children should not occupy what is traditionally called a “driver” position because the driver’s seat position is not designed to protect a child in a crash, but if a child sits in that seat, the car doesn’t immediately need to stop sports.
Existing regulations do not currently prohibit the deployment of self-driving cars, as long as they have manual driving controls, and as it continues to consider changes to other safety standards, manufacturers may still need to apply to NHTSA for exemptions from selling their ADS-equipped vehicles, NHTSA said.
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Karishma Singh)