HOW WILL UPDATED FEDERAL
REGULATIONS AFFECT CHILDREN?
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: