In late 2019 Toyota annoucned that it would be supplying 20 specially-designed Tokyo 2020 versions of its E-Pallet vehicles. These vehicles will provide automated, loop-line transportation for the athletes in the Olympic and Paralympic villages.  - Photo courtesy of Toyota. 

In late 2019 Toyota annoucned that it would be supplying 20 specially-designed Tokyo 2020 versions of its E-Pallet vehicles. These vehicles will provide automated, loop-line transportation for the athletes in the Olympic and Paralympic villages. 

Photo courtesy of Toyota. 

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is taking steps to advance current vehicle safety guidelines in order to facilitate the development of autonomous vehicles.

Today, NHTSA issued a proposal to modernize numerous Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for vehicles equipped with automated driving systems (ADS) that are designed without traditional manual controls, such as a vehicle without a steering wheel.  

The change that NHTSA is seeking in its notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) is forward-looking, so today’s automotive market won’t be directly affected by most of it. However, it does serve as an initial step to ensure that future vehicles that might have more advanced automated driving systems aren’t inhibited in their design due to current standards meant for non-autonomous vehicles.

Nothing in NHTSA’s proposal aims to change existing occupant protection requirements for traditional vehicles with manual controls. This proposal is one of a series of regulatory actions that NHTSA is considering in order to modernize vehicle standards for new technologies.

“This proposal seeks public comment on the Department’s efforts to improve safety and update rules that no longer make sense such as requiring manual driving controls on autonomous vehicles,” said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao.

One change that NHTSA’s NPRM aims to make is applying frontal passenger protection requirements to the traditional driver seating position when a steering wheel is not present.

The NPRM also addresses vehicles with no occupant compartment, such as potential occupant-less delivery vehicles that could be implemented into commercial fleet applications, and how current occupant protection standards would apply to those types of vehicles.

“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,” said Acting Administrator James Owens.

NHTSA is seeking comment from the public on all aspects of this proposal.

NPRMs are public notices issued by independent agencies in the U.S., such as NHTSA, when that agency wants to make create, remove, or change certain regulations. The proposal is then open to the public for comments for 30 to 60 days, in this case NHTSA has set the open discussion time to 60 days after publication of the NPRM in the federal register. 

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