Automobile - - Progress -

the usual Wash­ing­ton grid­lock, au­ton­o­mous ve­hi­cle tech­nol­ogy has also been stymied by out­dated Fed­eral Mo­tor Ve­hi­cle Safety Stan­dards. The FMVSS spec­ify le­gal re­quire­ments such as pas­sen­ger-car de­sign and per­for­mance, reg­u­late auto safety sys­tems, and are crafted with hu­man driv­ers in mind, not ma­chines. Au­tomak­ers have found it hard enough to get NHTSA to ap­prove the lat­est

(and safest) head­light tech­nol­ogy as part of the FMVSS, much less ve­hi­cles with­out a steer­ing wheel and ac­cel­er­a­tor and brake ped­als.

AV de­vel­op­ers have found ways around the FMVSS. Speak­ing about Google’s first pur­pose­built self-driv­ing car, the tiny Fire­fly, Se­val Oz—for­mer head of busi­ness de­vel­op­ment for Google’s self-driv­ing car project—says, “Once the de­ci­sion was made to as­sem­ble a new ve­hi­cle, the is­sue be­came more FMVSS com­pli­ance. This is why we de­ferred to a lowspeed-com­pli­ant ve­hi­cle, which ex­empted it from re­quire­ments for high speed.”

But even with all its re­sources, Google quickly dis­cov­ered that build­ing cars in scale from scratch and only for low-speed pur­poses wasn’t fea­si­ble. And most au­tomak­ers will want to lever­age ex­ist­ing ve­hi­cle plat­forms to pro­duce self-driv­ing cars.

Although for­mer NHTSA Ad­min­is­tra­tor David Strick­land notes that the FMVSS are de­signed to evolve over time, he ac­knowl­edges that for de­vel­op­ers hop­ing to get AVs with­out a steer­ing wheel or ped­als ap­proved for use on pub­lic roads, “You ba­si­cally have to re­write the whole stan­dard, and that’s go­ing to take a lot of ef­fort and a lot of time. In­stead of rewrit­ing ex­ist­ing stan­dards for an AV fleet, you could … cre­ate new stan­dards.”

Strick­land ex­plains fur­ther: “As op­posed to un­ty­ing all the reg­u­la­tions to fit AVs into legacy re­quire­ments, you could take a blank sheet of pa­per and cre­ate an en­tirely new class of ve­hi­cles. That may be a bet­ter ap­proach, but that the NHTSA’s call.” DN

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