In December 2020, NHTSA posted a significant Notice of Interpretation with important ramifications for manufacturers of autonomous vehicles. The Notice Regarding the Applicability of NHTSA FMVSS Test Procedures to Certifying Manufacturers updates the Agency’s position taken in a 2016 letter to Google on the relationship between FMVSS and AVs with novel designs lacking traditional controls, e.g. a steering wheel, brake pedal, etc.
Traditionally, under NHTSAs self-certification process, manufacturers were not required to test a vehicle’s performance under the specific conditions of a particular FMVSS. Instead, generally speaking, they were permitted to self-certify using simulations or engineering analysis. But despite alternatives to certification through testing by the manufacturer, the FMVSS themselves still provided a means for actually testing vehicles against defined performance criteria. The issue in this recent notice, however, “regards the situation where NHTSA is not able to test a vehicle in accordance with the FMVSS test conditions and procedures due to its design.” As with the previous 2016 Google interpretation, this is particularly significant for vehicles designed without manual controls like a steering wheel or brake pedal. Continue Reading NHTSA Makes a U-Turn on AV Regulation in Latest Notice of Interpretation