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WASHINGTON — Federal regulators on Tuesday moved to make changes in some safety standards to help pave the way for driver-less vehicles.
They could give companies trying to create autonomous vehicles more leeway when approaching federal standards — like those written in such a way as to refer to a driver's seat or a steering wheel — that may not apply to them.
For instance, they could make clear that all the forward-seated passengers in a driver-less vehicle receive the same level of safety protection as someone seated in the front passenger seat does now, without the safety requirements required for someone seated in the driver's position. That could change how air bags deploy, say, on what had been known as the driver-side position.
Another change would be to make it clear that occupant protection wouldn't be required in an autonomous truck that doesn't have a driver or passengers.
The proposal issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wouldn't change standards for any manually driven cars, trucks or buses.
“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 NHTSA Administrator James Owens.
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Currently, automakers looking to build an autonomous vehicle must ask for a waiver from federal standards. If enacted, the proposal released Tuesday, could reduce the need for some of those waivers.
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The proposal — which is open to public comment for 60 days at www.regulations.gov — was criticized by some auto safety groups who said this is not the time to move forward with the world fighting the coronavirus pandemic.
“When it comes to vehicle regulation right now, (the U.S. Department of Transportation, of which NHTSA is part) should be focusing on existing safety measures which work to keep America moving forward when this crisis ends, not corporate giveaways desired by lobbyists and questioned by experts," said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington, D.C.
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