The Feds Just Gave Self-Driving Vehicles A Free Pass

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Autonomous cars now have new rules.

The technological pursuit of self-driving vehicles continues at a rapid pace. Companies like Tesla and Waymo have been testing their latest autonomous driving systems throughout the pandemic and will aim to increase operations this year. Looking even further ahead, the outgoing Trump administration has just issued new rules allowing all self-driving vehicle manufacturers to circumvent some crash standards in order to help reduce production costs.

Reuters reports the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released new rules enabling these companies to avoid crash tests under one key condition: the automated vehicles must be designed for carrying products, not people. Not only can manufacturers like Amazon, who's developing a self-driving all-electric delivery van with Rivian, avoid expensive crash tests, but also reduce expenses by not having to develop things like steering wheels and other standard controls.

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This regulation is also beneficial for future passenger-carrying autonomous vehicles in several ways, such as innovation. "We do not want regulations enacted long before the development of automated technologies to present an unintended and unnecessary barrier to innovation and improved vehicle safety," said Deputy NHTSA Administrator James Owens.

This is also the first time the NHTSA has given permission for manufacturers to remove the driver's seat in self-driving vehicles. The safety agency estimates its new rules will save self-driving vehicle companies up to $5.8 billion through 2050. As expected, not everyone is happy with this rule change.

The Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety says the government agency should instead focus on "commonsense rules detailing minimum performance standards for autonomous driving systems."

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Meanwhile, the likes of Waymo, Ford, Tesla, and Uber couldn't be happier. Their own lobbying agency, the Self-Driving Coalition, said the new rules help to remove "barriers to innovation while preserving the important safety protections afforded to vehicle occupants by NHTSA's current standards." Still, this won't alleviate consumer concerns over self-driving vehicle safety.

For example, Waymo is no longer referring to its fleet of modified Chrysler Pacifica minivans as "self-driving cars" and will instead use "more deliberate language" in its marketing campaigns. This is largely seen as a swipe at Tesla which is currently allowing a select group of owners to access the Autopilot's full self-driving capabilities for beta testing. A full FSD rollout is expected very soon.

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Source Credits: Reuters

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