Automated Vehicles Get Streamlined Safety Standards in New Rule

  • Modified safety requirements will lower automaker costs
  • Automated vehicles must maintain occupant safety levels

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The Biden administration released a final rule Thursday to streamline safety standards for automated vehicles.

Regulators were grappling with the question of how to evaluate the safety of vehicles that don’t have traditional features, such as a steering wheel or a driver’s seat. Now, cars with automated driver systems will be judged under modified versions of existing standards under the rule, to ensure they offer the same level of protection as regular cars.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the change will ensure safety by clarifying what is required of manufacturers, while streamlining car companies’ certification processes and costs. Automakers will save about $995 per vehicle, the agency estimates.

NHTSA said the move is part of its continued effort to oversee the deployment of automated cars. The agency has been left to regulate the rapidly developing vehicles on its own, as legislation on Capitol Hill has stalled.

“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,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement Thursday.

Photo: Bing Guan/Bloomberg
A Kia Corp. Soul test vehicle equipped with Qualcomm Inc. autonomous driving technology is operated near Qualcomm headquarters in San Diego on April 27, 2021.

Work on autonomous vehicles and advanced driver systems is well underway. Tesla Inc. has come under particular scrutiny, with NHTSA investigating the company’s Autopilot system — a driver-assistance feature — after collisions involving first-responder vehicles.

Legislation to regulate automated vehicles stalled several years ago on pushback from unions and trial lawyers, as well as safety concerns. Lawmakers discussed next steps at a hearing last month, but haven’t moved forward.

Automated Vehicle Legislation Sought to Make U.S. Roads Safer

Right now, automated vehicle makers have to seek exemptions from existing safety standards to be certified. The new rule would ease the process by cutting some costs as well as the number of standards requiring exemptions, the agency said in the rule.

“This rule will eliminate the need for ADS-equipped -vehicle manufacturers to equip vehicles with redundant manual driving controls in vehicles that do not have manual driving capabilities,” according to the rule, which the agency is submitting to the Federal Register.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lillianna Byington in Washington at

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Sarah Babbage at; Anna Yukhananov at

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