March 14, 2022

NHTSA Amends Occupant Protection Safety Standards to Account for Autonomous Vehicles


On March 10, 2022, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a Final Rule amending certain federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS) that regulate occupant protection in vehicles to account for vehicles equipped with Automated Driving Systems (ADS). The amendments to be implemented pursuant to the Final Rule will be of particular interest to vehicle and equipment manufacturers involved in the manufacture or design of vehicles using autonomous technology.


These FMVSS are sometimes called “the 200-series standards” because each is identified by a standard number beginning with “2.” These standards are also sometimes called “the crashworthiness standards” because they are intended to provide for the protection of vehicle occupants in a crash.

The release of the Final Rule comes nearly two years after NHTSA’s issuance of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking that generated input from a variety of stakeholders, including vehicle and equipment manufacturers, ADS developers, industry associations, consumer advocates, government bodies and the general public.


Thematically, the Final Rule has a number of important components. It:

  •  Changes terminology and definitions used throughout the 200-series FMVSS. These changes clarify how certain of the amended standards apply to ADS-equipped vehicles. This is particularly important as certain terms integral to the FMVSS—i.e., “driver’s seat” or “steering controls”—may not apply in ADS-equipped vehicles that, for example, are not designed to include a driver’s seat or traditional operator steering controls.
  • Provides substantive amendments to a number of the 200-series FMVSS. While there is substantial attention paid to the requirements of FMVSS 208 (occupant crash protection), amendments to other FMVSS also are discussed. This includes amendments to the following FMVSS: 203 (impact protection for the driver from the steering control system), 204 (steering control rearward displacement), 207 (seating systems), 214 (side impact protection) and 226 (ejection mitigation). NHTSA’s overarching goal was to preserve the same high level of occupant protection that is provided by conventional vehicles.
  • Provides substantial guidance on the applicability of the 200-series crashworthiness FMVSS to occupantless vehicles—i.e., vehicles designed solely to carry cargo—by revising several of the standards to make explicit that they do not apply to occupantless-vehicles.

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