Without a driver, but also without a steering wheel and other traditional controls: it is the car of the future, which has undergone a new and strong acceleration. Urged by General Motors and Cruise, the division that deals with autonomous driving on behalf of the American giant, NHTSA, the US federal authority for transport safety, has written a page in the history of mobility. The body has amended the crash test regulation for driverless vehicles by providing that they may be free of elements such as the steering wheel, brake pedal or steering column. The revised standards also include recommendations on how to occupy the seats. The authority has thus somehow recovered the primacy of innovation, after Germany had authorized Mercedes in recent months to install a level 3 (out of 5) autonomous driving system on the S-Class and EQS.
The same NHTSA, whose intervention was also previously invoked by the Automotive Vehicle Industry Association (AVIA), which includes Ford, Argo AI, Aurora, Volvo, Uber, Waymo, Lyft, Cruise itself and other companies, among others , had estimated a potential savings of around $ 1,000 per car by 2050, considering a circulation of 5.8 million units. The companies had asked the authorities to remove the barriers that hold back innovation “while maintaining the current parameters through which the NHTSA guarantees” the protection and safety of car occupants.
The elimination of the controls only concerns those vehicles intended for autonomous driving. “For vehicles designed to be operated exclusively by an ADS (an acronym for Automated Driving System, ed), manual driving controls are logically useless,” clarified the same agency.
The revision of the rules, which until now required cars to have “always a driver’s seat, a steering wheel and a steering column, or just a seat for the front passenger”, was requested in 2020. The response of the NHTSA came following a specific request from GM and Cruise to produce and distribute a self-driving vehicle without traditional controls. Four years ago, the manufacturer anticipated the times by exhibiting the Cruise AV prototype which had no steering wheel or pedals.
For the agency, as its deputy administrator Steven Cliff explained, there remains the need to guarantee the same safety for people even if the responsibility for driving is no longer with a driver but with artificial intelligence. The obligation is to “integrate it from the beginning”.