NHSTA removes manual control requirements for self-driving vehicles

The US NHSTA dropped a manual control requirement in vehicles capable of full autonomy. He noted that the rules requiring manual controls were written decades ago, when self-driving vehicles were just a matter of science fiction.

Automated vehicles that meet Level 5 standards in the SAE’s table titled “Levels of Driving Automation” would require little or no human intervention under almost all driving conditions. They would be able to drive in low visibility conditions and make most decisions on their own.

General Motors‘ Cruise department is developing its own self-driving software with the likely goal of competing with Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving software. He applied to NHTSA for permission to build self-driving vehicles without brakes or steering wheels.

Tesla had also raised the possibility of building at least one model of the vehicle without a steering wheel. It also has a “steering wheel” design that closely resembles the steering yokes used by professional racing drivers.

According to Elon Musk, Tesla made developing its driver assistance programs a priority after a fatal crash in which the vehicle owner fell asleep at the wheel. The owner allegedly blamed the Tesla vehicle’s “new car smell” for putting him to sleep in a lawsuit that was quickly dismissed.

Since then, Autopilot has shown its ability to respond to “real world” driving conditions in situations such as a drunk driver passing out at the wheel.

That hasn’t stopped regulators probing Autopilot and politicians calling for an investigation after at least one fatal wreck in which Autopilot was initially blamed. However, Tesla maintains usage logs for vehicles equipped with Autopilot and FSD and was able to establish that the Autopilot was not active at the time of the wreck.

Even some engineers admitted that Tesla and Musk “overdid” FSD’s capability. The company releases routine software updates to add or refine features or fix software bugs in previous versions, but it’s not exactly Level 5 yet.

Tesla aims to encourage its vehicle owners to adopt good driving habits and use its driver assistance programs wisely by requiring a test drive before owners can use FSD and by introducing an insurance program with dynamic premium rates based on real-time driving habits in Texas.

Will automakers be able to produce fully automated vehicles capable of meeting SAE Level 5 standards on the “Levels of Driving Automation” charts? In an ideal situation, fully automated vehicles that do not require driver intervention would be considered normal.

Until full automation becomes the norm, a Level 5 vehicle should “know” how to deal with an environment that includes unpredictable human drivers. Human error is a factor in most fatal accidents. Even when the autopilot is active, chances are that any serious accident is the fault of the driver of another vehicle who did something the autopilot was not ready for.

Like electric vehicles, Tesla has gotten other automakers to take “fully autonomous driving” seriously instead of just treating it as a science fiction thing. For once, NHTSA got ahead of the game by saying manual control wouldn’t be necessary in a Level 5 fully autonomous vehicle.

About Irene J. O'Donnell

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