Driverless cars: New rules mean cars no longer require a steering wheel or brake pedals

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This week saw US regulators remove the need for automakers to fit their autonomous cars with manual driving controls, meaning fully driverless cars are now legal. The move means cars don’t even require a steering wheel, or any method of a person stepping in should a crash happen.

As reported by Reuters, the development on Thursday means that car manufacturers no longer need to equip driverless cars with human controls, including brake pedals.

It means an end to safety standards that have stood for decades assuming humans are in control of vehicles.

Only last month, car giant General Motors and its self-driving technology unit Cruise petitioned the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for permission to build and deploy a self-driving vehicle without human controls like steering wheels or brake pedals.

Now they and other autonomous car makers will have that right.

The new rules update regulations that assume vehicles “will always have a driver’s seat, a steering wheel and accompanying steering column, or just one front outboard passenger seating position.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said: “For vehicles designed to be solely operated by an ADS (Autonomous driving system), manually operated driving controls are logically unnecessary.”

The rules, which were first proposed in March 2020, do say that automated vehicles must provide the same levels of occupant protection as human-driven vehicles.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator Steven Cliff said: “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.”

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Somewhat surprisingly, NHTSA’s rule says that while children should not occupy what is traditionally known as the “driver’s” position, the car will not immediately be required to cease motion if a child is in that seat.

That’s despite driver’s seats not being designed to protect children.

NHTSA also said existing regulations do not currently bar deploying automated vehicles as long as they have manual driving controls.

It added that manufacturers may still need to petition them for an exemption to sell their ADS-equipped vehicles.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement: “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.

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

General Motors wants to start production of its fully driverless shuttle bus called ‘Origin’ as early as next year.

It doesn’t have a steering wheel or any manual controls.

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