National Highway Traffic Safety Administration Proposes Revisions to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) to Accommodate Automated Driving Systems (ADS)
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in the March 30, 2020 Federal Register (F.R. Vol. 85 No. 61; Docket No. NHTSA-2020-0014) to remove unnecessary barriers to Automated Driving System (ADS) equipped vehicles. This NPRM is intended to be one in a series of regulatory actions to address near and long term issues of testing and verifying Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) compliance by clarifying/revising/adding/deleting requirements.
This NPRM targets the occupant protection standards to maintain regulatory text for application to traditional vehicles as well as ADS vehicles. This NPRM builds upon a May 2019 ANPRM, a January 2018 Request for Comments (RFC), NHTSA research, NHTSA Guidance documents and a number of public events with opportunity for stakeholder feedback. NHTSA's safety mission requires it to prioritize actions that reduce traffic accidents that result in deaths and injuries. Enabling innovation with lifesaving potential is priority for the NHTSA and it believes that ADS equipped vehicles may have lifesaving potential. It is anticipated that separate notices will be issued that pertain to telltales, indicators, alerts, and warnings in ADS equipped vehicles.
The Department of Transportation's (DOT's) automation principles include prioritizing safety, remain technology neutral, modernize regulations, encourage a consistent regulatory and operational environment, prepare proactively for automation, and protect and enhance the freedoms enjoyed by Americans. NHTSA indicated that they applied the following guiding principles in this proposal for updating the Crashworthiness FMVSSs to account for ADSs:
- Maintain Current Performance Requirements
- Reduce Unnecessary Regulatory Barriers and Uncertainty for Manufacturers
- Maintain the Current Regulatory Text Structure
- Remain Technology Neutral
Specifically, NHTSA modifications proposed in this NPRM address several high level changes that span one or more FMVSSs:
- Modification, addition, or relocation of key definitions throughout 49 CFR Part 571
- Clarification of the application of some occupant protection standards to vehicles designed to carry objects, not occupants
- Protections required when there is no steering wheel or steering column
- Modifications to the regulatory text to address situations where there may be no driver's seat and multiple outboard passenger seats
- Treatment of advanced air bags and advanced air bag suppression telltales given the likely eventuality that child occupants of an ADS equipped vehicle could one day sit in what we now consider the driver's seat
- Modifications to the regulatory text where it currently uses the driver's seat or the steering control as a spatial reference point for other locations in the vehicle
- Minor editorial revisions and some clarifying modifications to ensure that industry and the public have a clear idea of how the occupant protection standards apply to ADS-equipped vehicles
This NPRM is limited in scope and rests on a number of assumptions. First assumption, the initial ADS-equipped vehicles will have seating configurations similar to non-ADS vehicles. The second assumption, this NPRM addresses the topic of ADS vehicles designed exclusively to carry property.
The NHTSA proposes that current crashworthiness requirements intended to protect human occupants should not apply to such vehicles. The preliminary analysis lead NHTSA to conclude that occupant-less vehicles meet the Part 571.3 definition of a truck because occupant-less vehicles have no designated seating positions (DSPs). Additionally, the scope at this time does not provide a thorough analysis with respect to the topic of telltales and warnings as they related to ADS-equipped vehicles.
The proposed changes in this NPRM will not eliminate the need for manufacturers of ADS-equipped vehicles to seek exemptions for on-road use. However, while maintaining the existing level of occupant protection provided by the current FMVSSs, these changes could make the exemption process more efficient by reducing the number of standards requiring exemptions.
This NPRM proposes to modernize portions of some of the FMVSSs (201, 203, 204, 205, 206, 207, 208, 214, 216a, 225 & 226), while the NHTSA has tentatively determined that changes are not required for the remainder of the 200 Series.
NHTSA seeks comment as to whether additional changes are necessary to meet the stated objective of this NPRM. Comments should be submitted by May 29, 2020.