U.S. Scraps Human Control Requirements for Autonomous Vehicles

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Self-driving cars have been on the road — first in the development phase, and, later, in a few commercial transit capacities — for years now, but they were always required to be able to accommodate a human driver.

Early road tests had a driver in the front seat in case a technical problem forced him or her to assume the controls, but recently, the explanation for car makers and tech companies keeping those features was a little less exciting: they had to.

Federal highway rules crafted decades ago continued to mandate that cars have manual safety controls, but as of early March, that’s no longer the case.

Revised regulations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, according to Reuters, no longer assume that cars will have things like a driver’s seat, steering wheel, or foot pedals. In fact, the agency said those things would be “logically unnecessary” in an automated vehicle. Officials first proposed adjusting the rules for self-driving cars two years ago, and the final rules were issued March 10.

The changes pave the way for automakers to design automated vehicles without leaving room for now-unnecessary equipment. Some things, however, will remain the same under the revised regulations. The NHTSA said children still shouldn’t ride in what would otherwise be the driver’s seat, but only because vehicles aren’t designed to keep them safe in that spot. And officials said the overall safety standard for vehicles — automated or otherwise — would remain the same: “keep the humans safe.”

The changes don’t necessarily mean a flood of self-driving cars is heading to dealerships anytime soon; the report noted that automakers could still need to ask the NHTSA for an exemption to sell those cars.

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