NHTSA Considering Revising Vehicle Standards to Accommodate Self-Driving Vehicles

IHS Global Insight

October 31, 2017

U.S. regulators are considering changes to federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) to address redundant tools and speed development of autonomous cars, according to a document released on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) website. The document was posted as part of the DOT’s monthly report summarizing the status of all rulemaking DOT departments have pending, including the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The DOT comments say, “The [NHTSA] seeks comments to identify any unnecessary regulatory barriers to automated safety technologies, and for the testing and compliance certification of motor vehicles with unconventional automated vehicles designs, particularly those that are not equipped with controls for a human driver; e.g., steering wheel, brake, or accelerator pedal. Further, NHTSA seeks comments on the research that would be required to remove such barriers.

This action will inform subsequent steps in the regulatory process to amend federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) and other motor vehicle regulations in order to safely lay a path for innovative automated vehicle designs and technology.” The DOT says that there were no prompting actions, and no legal deadline under which a determination might be made. NHTSA referred to the rulemaking potential as “removing unnecessary regulatory barriers to automated safety technologies.” Separately, the NHTSA has announced a $223,300 grant to the DOT Motor Vehicle Administration in Maryland to implement a new program for notifying owners of pending recalls when their vehicle registrations are renewed annually. Maryland is the first to apply for the grant and will deploy a pilot program, according to a statement from NHTSA. The pilot program will “test the feasibility of providing open recall information to consumers at the time of vehicle registration.” This will not supersede automakers’ responsibility and liability for contacting owners of recalled vehicles.

Significance: This first step simply indicates the NHTSA is willing to consider changes, but does not put a timeline or process to making the changes. That process is expected to take some time—particularly as self-driving vehicles are still several years away from deployment. At this stage, the NHTSA says it is “seeking comment.” Current FMVSS standards cover everything from mandating airbags, that a driver’s foot be required to control braking, to the size and intensity of some safety warnings. Eventually, it is likely that regulations will change for self-driving vehicles. This potential change would cover production vehicles sold to consumers, unlike the regulation for testing autonomous vehicles being developed. Regarding the program for increasing repair rates for recalls, the issue has become more important as the number of recalls tends to increase. Currently, NHTSA wrote, only about 70% of recalled vehicles are repaired

Original headline: NHTSA considering revision of vehicle standards to accommodate self-driving vehicles; testing improvements for recall completion rates

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