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US regulator proposes updating safety standards for vehicles without manual controls

18 March 2020 IHS Markit Automotive Expert

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) proposes updating safety standards for vehicles designed without manual controls such as steering wheels or brake pedals. The proposal will be open for public comment and will help in speeding up the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs) in the United States. NHTSA is not proposing to change existing rules for cars with human drivers. James Owens, acting administrator of NHTSA, said, "With more than 90 percent of serious crashes caused by driver error, it's vital that we remove unnecessary barriers to technology that could help save lives. We do not want regulations enacted long before the development of automated technologies to present an unintended and unnecessary barrier against innovation and improved highway safety."

Significance: As the development of AVs progresses, companies are gearing up to remove human back-up drivers from their vehicles. However, under the current regulations, companies are facing challenges in deploying cars without traditional controls. In January 2017, General Motors (GM) requested permission from the NHTSA to build self-driving vehicles without a steering wheel or accelerator and brake pedals; however, that request is still under review. The NHTSA recently granted Nuro an exemption to produce autonomous vehicles with no traditional controls.


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