Driverless cars will not be exempt from U.S. crash-test standards, according to a new rulemaking proposal from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). In some cases, automakers may even have to prove that future versions of the cars are safer than they are now. NHTSA said it plans to modify what it calls its “200 series” of rules with the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, which automakers rely on to certify that their vehicles protect occupants.
What the Regulations Might Look Like
The issues raised by automakers and tech offshoots such as Google’s Waymo are specific language and definitions in these rules that would make certifying self-driving cars almost impossible. This is a small but significant step in “future-proofing” the agency’s requirements for when driverless cars comprise 30% of new-car sales by 2050, according to NHTSA’s proposal.
The agency wrote that if done correctly, the regulations should help streamline the manufacturer’s certification processes, reduce certification costs, and minimize the need for future NHTSA interpretation or exemption requests. The words “driver,” and “driving” appear about 200 times in the agency’s rulebook. In 2018, NHTSA had proposed it would redefine “driver” to mean either a person or an automated system. But, now NHTSA says the definition of a driver won’t change, but when the proposal becomes a rule that is enforceable, the requirements will specifically call out whether they apply to humans or an automated system.
Since every seat would be a passenger seat in a driverless car, NHTSA wants to apply the front passenger’s crash-test standards to what is now the driver’s position. However, companies such as Amazon would not have to comply with occupant protection standards such as heads hitting the inside parts of an interior, because they won’t have seats.
Safety Should Be a Major Concern
We’re starting to see more and more driverless vehicles on our roadways. For us, the biggest concern as auto defect attorneys is to ensure that these vehicles are safe. Are automakers and tech companies doing their due diligence when it comes to safety tests and safety standards? It is critical that NHTSA establishes strong safety standards for driverless vehicles. These standards should be part of a living, breathing document that has the capacity to evolve as technology evolves. Groundbreaking technology should never come at the expense of human lives. Safety should always be the top priority.