"Historic" US motor safety rule accounts for cars with no steering wheel
As the long line of futuristic concepts might demonstrate, the autonomous vehicles carrying us to work and around town in the future might not look much like the cars of today, at least on the inside. The US has today updated its motor safety standards with this in mind, issuing a first-of-a-kind rule to account for vehicles that eschew the steering wheel and other controls in favor of automated driving systems.
The safety standards that have traditionally guided automotive design have accounted for both drivers and passengers, meaning the inclusion of not just steering wheels, but windshields and mirrors for clear view of the roads, for example.
Back in 2020, we saw an interesting taste of a future where human drivers aren't necessarily front and center in the design process. The US Department of Transport (USDOT) granted startup Nuro a self-driving vehicle exemption, allowing it to publicly test its autonomous delivery pod built to carry groceries and food, with no capacity for human control or passengers.
Nuro, like many others in the space, isn't designing vehicles for humans to be in control of, and the new rule issued by the USDOT today brings regulators more into line with this thinking. Described as a historic step by the agency, it updates the federal safety standards for occupant protection to account for vehicles without traditional manual controls.
“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.”
These new standards are intended to make safety requirements clearer for manufacturers of autonomous vehicles, and ensure that these vehicles provide the same degree of protection for the occupants as the vehicles of today.
“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 US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This new rule is an important step, establishing robust safety standards for ADS-equipped vehicles.”