The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has removed the requirement for manual controls in fully autonomous vehicles to meet crash standards, according to a report by Automotive News.
In February, General Motors and its Cruise autonomous driving unit have asked to build and deploy a self-driving vehicle without steering wheels or brake pedals.
The current regulations state assume "will always have a driver's seat, a steering wheel and accompanying steering column, or just one front outboard passenger seating position." This will change with the new rules on vehicles equipped with automated driving systems (ADS).
"For vehicles designed to be solely operated by an ADS, manually operated driving controls are logically unnecessary," the agency said.
First proposed in March 2020, the new rules emphasize that occupant protection in autonomous vehicles remains tantamount to the safety systems found in human-driven vehicles. Airbags, seatbelts, and other safety systems should still be in place to protect each person inside the self-driving car.
"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," said NHTSA Deputy Administrator Steven Cliff in the Automotive News' report.
The rules also said that children should not be allowed to occupy the seat that's originally made to be for the driver. Typical safety systems are not designed to protect children in the driver's seat. However, if a child is to occupy the driver's seat, cars are not required to stop moving.
Automated vehicles are not barred from being deployed according to existing NHTSA regulations as long as they have manual controls. The agency states that manufacturers may still need to file for a petition to the NHTSA to sell their automated vehicles.