In a significant development, U.S. regulators have issued final rules which have eliminated the need for manual driving controls for fully autonomous vehicles; the development sees regulators finalizing new crash standards which have to be met by automated vehicle manufacturers.
Legacy safety standards had assumed that humans will control the vehicle. With fully autonomous vehicles gaining traction, tech companies and automakers were facing significant hurdles to deploying level 4 automated driving system (ADS) vehicles without human controls since they had to meet outdated safety standards.
Last month in February, General Motors and its self-driving technology unit Cruise had petitioned the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for permission to build and deploy a self-driving vehicle without human controls such as brake pedals and a steering wheel.
Legacy rules had assumed vehicles “will always have a driver’s seat, a steering wheel and accompanying steering column, or just one front outboard passenger seating position. For vehicles designed to be solely operated by an ADS, manually operated driving controls are logically unnecessary,” said the agency.
The new rules have emphasized that automated vehicles must provide the same levels of occupant protection as human-driven vehicles.
“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 Steven Cliff, Deputy Administrator at NHTSA.
According to the NHTSA, existing regulations do not currently bar deploying automated vehicles as long as they have manual driving controls, and as it continues to consider changing other safety standards, manufacturers may still need to petition NHTSA for an exemption to sell their ADS-equipped vehicles.
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