Autonomous vehicles will no longer require steering wheels in the US

Fully autonomous vehicles in the US will not need to come with manual driving controls following updates to the highway safety rules by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Previously, autonomous vehicles needed to come equipped with a steering wheel and pedals so that human drivers could take control if needed. Carmakers have had to grapple with safety standards written decades before the concept of automated vehicles was even a realistic endeavour.

“Through the 2020s, an important part of the US Department of Transportation’s safety mission will be to ensure safety standards keep pace with the development of automated driving and driver assistance systems,” said Pete Buttigieg, US transportation secretary.

“This new rule is an important step, establishing robust safety standards for ADS-equipped vehicles.”

The rule updates the standards to clarify what is required of manufacturers when applying the standards to automated vehicles without traditional manual controls.

The final rule also clarifies that vehicles with automated technology must continue to provide the same high levels of occupant protection that is expected from current passenger vehicles.

Children should also not occupy what is traditionally known as the driver’s position, given that the driver’s seating position has not been designed to protect children in a crash, but if a child is in that seat, the car will not immediately be required to cease motion.

NHTSA said it was closely monitoring the safe testing and deployment of these vehicles with a priority on safety across multiple areas, including data collection and analysis, research, human factors, rulemaking and enforcement.

Last summer, it issued an order requiring crash and incident reporting for vehicles equipped with automated systems of various types. This is designed to help investigators quickly identify defect trends that could emerge in these automated systems.

In addition, NHTSA initiated rulemaking last year to set safety standards for automatic emergency braking, a driver-assistance technology that can help avoid crashes with other road users, including pedestrians.

The Law Commission of England and Wales recently recommended that makers of self-driving vehicles should face sanctions if their system causes an accident, not the passenger within.

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