The outgoing Trump administration issued new rules Thursday that would allow manufacturers of automated vehicles to bypass crash standards required of conventional vehicles, cutting production costs.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the new rules would exempt from certain crash standards automated vehicles that are designed to carry only goods, not people. The new rules, issued after months of deliberation, would also give a freer hand to manufacturers of passenger-carrying autonomous vehicles to design vehicles without standard controls, such as steering wheels and brake pedals.
It is the first time the agency has taken a significant move to remove barriers to deployment of vehicles without traditional human controls - including eliminating the requirement that self-driving vehicles have a driver's seat.
The agency released the text of a single final rule encompassing the changes and signed on Wednesday, but it is not clear when it will be formally published in the Federal Register.
“We do not want regulations enacted long before the development of automated technologies to present an unintended and unnecessary barrier to innovation and improved vehicle safety,” Deputy NHTSA Administrator James Owens said in a statement.
The auto and technology industries have long pressed the NHTSA to modify existing vehicle safety standards that worked to force up the cost of automated cars and trucks.
NHTSA estimated its rule would save automated vehicle manufacturers up to $5.8 billion in the year 2050, or about $995 a vehicle based on an estimated production of 5.8 million vehicles.
The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents most major automakers as well as some suppliers and tech companies, applauded NHTSA’s “continued work to remove barriers to advanced technologies and safety systems.”
The agency’s action is in line with an AV policy roadmap released by the association in December that aims to guide federal policies and advance the testing and deployment of automated vehicles in the U.S.
The Self-Driving Coalition, a group including Alphabet Inc's Waymo, Ford Motor Co, Uber and others, said the rule addresses "barriers to innovation while preserving the important safety protections afforded to vehicle occupants by NHTSA’s current standards."
NHTSA's final rule says it seeks "to remove unintended and unnecessary barriers to vehicle designs."
Automotive News contributed to this report.