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NHTSA’s new rule opens the way for cars without manual controls

A movie fantasy is about to come through as the NHTSA finally gives approval for autonomous vehicles without driving controls.

There is a good chance you have seen a movie featuring a car with no steering because it has the smarts to drive itself. Or flashy concepts and prototypes displayed sans driving controls at tech events. Things are about to get real as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is giving self-driving cars the go-ahead to ditch manual controls.

This news comes as part of updated Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.

“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 the U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This new rule is an important step, establishing robust safety standards for ADS-equipped 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 Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator. “With this rule, we ensure that manufacturers put safety first.”

Prior to this announcement, occupant protection standards were targeted at common vehicles that had traditional steering wheels and other manual controls. The new rule clarifies what manufacturers must do when applying the standards to ADS-enabled cars without manual controls.

NHTSA’s rule stresses that vehicles built without manual controls must still provide the same high levels of occupant protection as existing passenger vehicles.

The agency has been beefing up its public safety standards with the emergence of autonomous vehicle operations. It has been actively engaged in testing and deploying the technologies in data collection and analysis, research, human factors, rulemaking, and enforcement. 

For example, last year, the NHTSA mandated crash and incident reporting for vehicles running ADS or other advanced driver-assistance systems. The report will help investigators to identify safety trends.

Of course, this doesn’t mean your next Uber will come with a radically different dashboard, as real autonomous cars may still be years away. There are no fully autonomous or Level 5 cars on the market yet. Tesla, which is often mentioned in connection with autonomous driving, is still at Level 2 because it requires a human driver always to keep their hands on the steering wheel.

Other auto companies making progress in autonomous driving include Volkswagen. The German carmaker is working on a Level 4 enabled ID.Buzz EV and is carrying out pilots for robotaxis and self-driving shuttles. GM’s Cadillac also displayed an EV with no steering wheel or pedals.

However, Tesla’s boss, Elon Musk, recently floated the idea of its rumored affordable EV, ‘Model 2’, coming with no pedal or driving wheel. He suggested the move will help reduce costs, but the car will be used in a fleet of robotaxis, which the company will operate.

Any member of the public is welcome to petition for a reconsideration of the rule at this stage.

Written by HackerVibes

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