As NHTSA looks for a way to allow vehicles without traditional human controls such as steering wheels and pedals on U.S. roadways, a number of companies, organizations and safety advocacy groups are weighing in on how the agency should approach this.
The nation's road safety regulator sought public comment in May on its efforts to address standards challenges related to automated vehicles. NHTSA has said that to assess driverless vehicles' compliance with existing standards, it may be necessary to modify regulatory text.
"The agency intends to explore modifications to the standards with a continued focus on safety," it said.
Among those who responded to NHTSA's request for public comment before the submission period closed last week were Waymo, the self-driving unit of Google parent Alphabet Inc., and the Center for Auto Safety.
General Motors, Lyft Inc. and Honda Motor Co. also submitted comments.
"NHTSA should move promptly to remove barriers while ensuring safety," Waymo said in a letter posted last week. That will "enable the timely deployment" of vehicles without manual controls, Waymo added.
The Center for Auto Safety said NHTSA should write new rules rather than revise existing standards.
In comments submitted to NHTSA last week, the center questioned the agency's choice to "prioritize a potential roll back of important protections afforded by the current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards."
The center says rollbacks would "accommodate the introduction of vehicle technology that is in its infancy and quite likely decades away from widespread practical utility."
The Center for Auto Safety said a safer avenue to introduce autonomous driving systems would be to write mandatory performance standards for existing advanced safety features, such as automatic emergency braking.
The center said "there is no demonstrable evidence" that vehicles lacking manual controls defined by the current standards can safely operate on roads, "yet NHTSA is entertaining the idea of changing safety standards to accommodate such vehicles."
"The Department of Transportation's insistence on deregulation as the answer to all questions is the real barrier to a roadway to safer vehicles," the center said.
Those in the autonomous sector have been pursuing different avenues for regulation. GM, for example, filed a petition in January 2017 seeking an exemption from current standards to deploy vehicles without human controls. NHTSA is considering whether to modify those standards. Meanwhile, efforts are underway in Congress to revive autonomous vehicle legislation.
Currently, automakers must meet nearly 75 auto safety standards for self-driving cars, many of them written under the assumption that a licensed driver is in command of the vehicle using traditional controls.
Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, told Automotive News the federal safety standards were not developed to account for vehicles without steering wheels, brake pedals, gear selectors or a human in control. Levine said new standards will be required to address the issues associated with these vehicles.
Lyft and Honda also each told the agency that it could recognize self- driving cars as a separate vehicle class.
"The value of having government standards is to sort of set that minimum safety floor for everyone to get past," Levine said. "What this is doing will both undercut existing standards and not provide that minimum safety level that will benefit everyone in the autonomous sector."
The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, for example, conducts low- and moderate-speed track tests of vehicles with automatic braking systems for front crash prevention ratings, which help determine its top safety picks.
In a statement sent to Automotive News, NHTSA said it is evaluating all public comments received and will consider the information provided to help determine the appropriate path forward.
Reuters contributed to this report.