Children should be considered before safety regulations that currently protect them—whether directly or indirectly — are amended.

Around the world, significant efforts are underway to update vehicle certification or type-approval procedures in prepa- ration for the introduction of automated vehicles (AVs). As part of that process, current vehicle regulations are being amended to remove technical barriers to AVs.


Looking specifically at the U.S., Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (under Title 49 of the U.S. Code of Federal Regu- lations), which specify the performance, durability, construction, and/or design of vehicles on America’s roadways, were mostly written decades ago, when driverless vehicles were not envisioned. Therefore, some of these standards will re- quire amendments before fully automated vehicles can be legal for general use; others will be subject to scrutiny due to the perception that they add unnecessary cost to a vehicle without a driver.


However, current standards form the foundation for our approach to child passenger safety. While only certain stan- dards, like FMVSS 213 and 225, relate directly to children, child-specific standards are intrinsically related to several other standards, especially those that influence the characteristics of vehicle interiors. Therefore, to ensure child safety, any amendment to standards must be assessed for its potential influence on children, whether direct or incidental.


U.S. regulators have been preparing to amend current standards, but more must be done to consider children before changes are finalized.

Through several forms of communication, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has ex- pressed its intention to prepare the regulatory landscape to pave the way for AVs. For instance, since 2016, it has pub- lished four position papers on this topic, each building on the last; the most recent paper, Ensuring American Leader- ship in Automated Vehicle Technologies: Automated Vehicles 4.0, came out in January 2020. In addition, NHTSA has initiated the rulemaking process to fulfill goals stated in this paper through two Advance Notices of Proposed Rulemak- ing (in 2019, focusing on the 100-level crash avoidance standards, and in 2020, requesting input on a framework for automated driving system safety), as well as a 2020 Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, which proposes changes to the 200-level, crashworthiness standards. These actions, though so far not more than proposals, signal NHTSA’s future plans.


NHTSA’s position papers do not address the agency’s commitment to the safety of child passengers in AVs. In the rulemaking documents, NHTSA gives some attention to how proposals may affect children, and the public is empow- ered to add more child-centered input to any rulemaking discussion through the comment process.


Therefore, the Consortium developed the following documents in 2020 to anticipate elements of current standards that, for the sake of child passengers, should be preserved, taken into account, and/or updated. These documents, shared here to alert AV developers, policy planners, and lawmakers to the needs of children in the regulatory process, include:

Key Considerations for Transporting Children in AVs:

This matrix frames child safety considerations in terms of types of risks to children and how those risks could evolve over time based on many factors: the pace of AV rollout, the types of AVs introduced, and the expectation that a mixed fleet of automated and non-automated vehicles is likely to coexist for several years. By updating the tool’s row and column information to reflect the latest updates to predictions, this matrix can serve as a tool to maintain focus on consideration for child safety.


Analysis of U.S. Standards:

This document analyzes the various Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards with respect to aspects that have a direct or indirect effect on how children are transported. The Consortium looked into all U.S. motor vehicle safety standards; listed here are only the ones deemed to have the most influence on child safety. Regulators are currently looking at ways to amend most of these standards in order to remove barriers to automated vehicles.

Key Considerations for Transporting Children in AVs

Transitional Period /Predicted Timeframe
Early Automation: Now until 2030?
  • Expanded Advanced Driver Assistance System and Vehicle-to-Vehicles/ Vehicle to Infrastructure
  • Very limited Level 3/4/5 presence (taxi, trucks etc.)
Mid-Transition: 2030?—2070?
  • Mixed fleet
  • Shared AVs
  • Trucking applications
  • Private AVs high- end/luxury
Full Automation: Post-2070?
  • Majority of vehicles AVs in urban areas; human drivers rare
  • Fewer AVs outside cities
Child Risks/Concerns

Ultimately, AVs will mean fewer crashes—but crash avoidance will still happen, as well as some actual crashes.

  • How will these new incidents differ in severity?
  • Will incidents climb before falling?
  • How should children be protected?
  • Crashes—Will the types of crashes change? Will restraints need to adapt to different forces?
  • Crash avoidance (rapid deceleration, swerves)—Will severity of these maneuvers endanger children?
  • Compatibility of rear-facing child restraints in AVs
  • Compatibility of forward-facing child restraints in AVs
  • Compatibility of belt-positioning booster seats in AVs
  • Regulations/standardization—removing barriers to AVs must not result in lessening protection to children or the introduction of new risks.
Non-Crash Injury
  • How will recognized non-crash dangers in and around vehicles change over time?
  • And will new risks arise?
  • Can technology solve these longstanding problems?
  • Restraint-use monitoring
  • Hyperthermia
  • Vehicle rollaway
  • Backover/Frontover
  • Trip endpoint supervision
  • How will caregivers behave with respect to protecting their children in the upcoming transitional time periods?
  • What rules will govern them, how will they be taught, and how will rules be enforced?
  • Who is legally responsible for the installation and proper use of a child’s restraint system?
  • Who is legally responsible for a child riding in an AV?
  • How old must a child be to ride alone (who sets these rules, how are they communicated and enforced, are there exceptions)?
  • How are laws to be enforced?
  • How will caregivers and law enforcement be taught?
Analysis of U.S. Federal Vehicle Safety Standards: Child Passengers and AVs

Note: “Designated seating position” is clarified not in an FMVSS, but in 571.3 “Definitions” and 571.10 “Designation of Seating Positions”, which give the minimum width of each seating position and certain exemptions, but currently do not specify a seat’s required orientation. (That is, the fact that most current designated vehicle seats face forward is a choice, not a requirement.) These parts add additional requirements for calculating the number of seats, ultimately requiring at least two in most vehicles (for driver and one passenger). Parts 571.3 and 571.10 seem particularly suitable for a potential amendment to consider children in AVs, since it would be a natural place to require seating suitable for traditional child restraints to be installed (forward-facing), at least in the absence of a suitable alternative child restraint for children.