By on January 14, 2021




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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8 Comments on “Owens Gifts Autonomous Drivers...”

  • avatar

    Ahh yes, our autonomous delivery future. Where your delivery vehicle shows up at the pin on Google Maps which has been wrong for 10 years, and now you have to walk down the street to get your stuff before the impatient vehicle drives off.

    Seriously though, people get stuff delivered so they can open their front door and bend down to get it. They DO NOT want to walk all the way to the street and put in a PIN to get their stuff out of the van.

    • 0 avatar

      This, sure you’ll be home when that Pizza gets delivered but the beauty of ordering non-food items online is that they will be there when you get home.

      Sure many are working from home now but many can’t and won’t be able to take a day off to stay at home to meet the delivery truck. Those that are working at home may be in a meeting and can’t go out and get the package from the truck. So unless they include a robot to deliver the package to the door step it just became less convenient to buy online and more convenient to buy at the store.

  • avatar

    “Since driver error is responsible for most accidents, we’re making it safer by getting rid of the drivers!”

    Most medical malpractice is committed by doctors. Maybe we should get rid of them too.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “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.”

    Once someone is injured or killed by such a vehicle, people will start to like lawyers again.

    I want to meet the first mfr’s legal team that signs off on deployment of AVs on public roads.

    • 0 avatar

      “I want to meet the first mfr’s legal team that signs off on deployment of AVs on public roads.”

      Hopefully, the members of that legal team are currently infants still in diapers.

      Autonomous vehicles will need technology to see around corners (in its infancy), ground-penetrating road fingerprinting (under development by an MIT spinoff), and artificial intuition. The AI to do all of that is still under development and not the same as what’s being used today. We’re still at the stage of weekly zoom meetings discussing white papers and still trying to figure it out.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

    • 0 avatar

      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!

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