The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to be ready for the future when vehicles will become fully autonomous, so it has adopted a rule that allows such vehicles to be sold and operated without physical controls. This was done because much of the safety terminology around cars uses terms such as ‘driver’s seat’ and ‘steering wheel’ which are expected to disappear in time, so transport safety institutions will need to adapt.
This first-of-its-kind rule is the first step and it updates the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards with more clear guidelines for self-driving vehicles in preparation for the future. The NHTSA issued a press release announcement which quotes U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg as saying
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.
Prior to this new rule, there was no legal distinction, but according to the press release,
The rule updates the standards to clarify what is required of manufacturers when applying the standards to ADS-equipped vehicles without traditional manual controls.
The final rule clarifies that, despite their innovative designs, vehicles with ADS technology must continue to provide the same high levels of occupant protection as current passenger vehicles.
This rule is part of NHTSA’s ongoing efforts to ensure the public’s safety as vehicle automation evolves.
The NHTSA made automated driving-related crash reports mandatory for automakers to provide, after it had allowed Tesla to test its Full Self-Driving on public roads but it had received hardly any information about how that program was going. It sent Tesla an 11-page long letter looking for explanations after it announced it had launched an investigation into FSD.