The US Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a first-of-its-kind final rule to ensure safety of occupants in vehicles equipped with automated driving systems (ADS).

Before the new rule, occupant protection standards were written for vehicles with traditional features including steering wheels and other manual controls. The rule updates the standards to clarify what is required of manufacturers when applying the standards to ADS-equipped vehicles without traditional manual controls.

Critically the rule clarifies that vehicles with ADS technology must provide the same levels of occupant protection as current passenger vehicles.

The ruling is part of NHTSA’s ongoing efforts to ensure the public’s safety as vehicle automation evolves. NHTSA’s approach to advanced vehicle technologies prioritises safety across multiple areas, including data collection and analysis, research, human factors, rulemaking and enforcement.

US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said, “This new rule is an important step, establishing robust safety standards for ADS-equipped vehicles. Through the 2020s, an important part of USDOT’s safety mission will be to ensure safety standards keep pace with the development of automated driving and driver assistance systems.”

Dr Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Deputy Administrator adds, “As the driver changes from a person to a machine, the need to keep the humans safe remains the same and must be integrated from the beginning.”

Last summer, NHTSA issued a Standing General Order requiring crash and incident reporting for vehicles equipped with ADS and certain advanced driver-assistance systems. This reporting will help NHTSA investigators quickly identify defect trends that could emerge in automated systems.