Owens Gifts Autonomous Drivers

Jason R. Sakurai
by Jason R. Sakurai
owens gifts autonomous drivers

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) today has issued a final rule, all 147 pages of it, designed to roll back numerous Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) and clarify what they termed as ambiguities in current occupant protection standards, for vehicles equipped with automated driving systems (ADS). These are specifically vehicles that are designed without traditional manual driver controls.

The rule amends several regulations regarding crashworthiness, in effect lessening safety standards for automated vehicles equipped without manual driver controls. The rule also exempts automated vehicles, be it a delivery van or service truck, designed never to carry any human occupants, including drivers, from crashworthiness standards. If it sounds like the automated vehicle could hit your car or truck and not be held liable, you’re getting the gist of some of the DOT-speak contained in the rule.

Call it coincidental, but the proclamation from General Motors’ Mary Barra yesterday that they are in the e-delivery business is certainly fortuitous. What she didn’t say was that these vans, especially if made autonomous, would eliminate tens of thousands of delivery drivers, Domino’s, Pizza Hut, and Papa Johns included. Dropping the green flag on autonomous driving, how long do you think it will be before we see unmanned brown trucks pulling up to your home or business, and using your smartphone, complete delivery of your packages?

Referring to the DOT’s own internal findings, “With more than 90% of serious crashes caused by driver error, it’s vital that we remove unnecessary barriers to technology that could help save lives,” Owens said. “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.” Let’s follow that line of thinking a little further. If the DOT has already determined that autonomous drivers are safer than you, why should the automaker be required to maintain liability insurance when they know that you’re at fault?

By the way, the rule will not change existing occupant protection requirements for traditional vehicles with manual driver controls, so you’ll still need to have your insurance in order and be able to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that it wasn’t your fault when the autonomous driver hits you.

[Images: Ford, DOT, BrightDrop, Domino’s]

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3 of 8 comments
  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Jan 14, 2021

    Don't be afraid of AI. The future brings only good things. Or they say so. Imagine you are living in 1933. Ascent of autonomous trucks should be the least of your worries about the future, if you smart enough to understand it of course.

  • Watersketch Watersketch on Jan 15, 2021

    As someone who has driven behind automated cars I anticipate huge levels of road rage if these make it on the road. Will make us crave bad delivery drivers.

    • Syke Syke on Jan 15, 2021

      Yeah, all those following drivers who will be stuck driving at exactly the speed limit, coming to a full stop at stop signs, and being forced to decelerate with intent of stopping when the traffic light turns yellow. Oh, the humanity!

  • MaintenanceCosts This class of car competes hard with Chargers/Challengers and modded diesel pickups for the douchey-driving crown.
  • 28-Cars-Later Corey - I think I am going to issue a fatwa demanding a cool kids car meetup in July somewhere in the Ohio region.
  • Master Baiter Might as well light 50 $100 bills on fire.
  • Mike1041 At $300K per copy they may secure as much as 2 or 3 deposits of $1,000
  • Sgeffe Why on Earth can’t you just get the torque specs and do it yourself if you’re so-inclined?!