Regulations

NHTSA proposes rules changes to enable vehicle mobility for physically disabled persons

New proposed rules would make renting a vehicle a viable proposition for disabled Americans.

Photo by DGLimages/Getty Images

The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed a rule that would enable more mobility options for people with physical disabilities. The notice of proposed rule making reads that it would allow two new modifications to rental cars for adaptive equipment.

"This rule will make it easier for individuals with disabilities to achieve greater mobility and freedom in their lives," said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

The first of the proposed changes would allow rental car companies to temporarily disable a driver's knee bolster air bag to install hand controls. These types of controls allow people with disabilities such as lower extremity paralysis to perform all the functions of driving a vehicle using just their hands.

If hand controls are installed and the airbag is not disabled, according to the NHTSA, the resulting force of the airbag's deployment "could cause the hand controls to strike the driver with extreme forces and create a serious risk to the safety of the driver".

Another proposed change would allow for the installation of rear-mounted transporters for wheelchairs and power scooters. This type of adaption could block the rearview camera's sight lines - cameras are now required in every new vehicle - but would improve mobility for drivers and passengers with disabilities.

"Safe and accessible transportation is vital for people with disabilities. This rule will enable them to rent a wider range of cars and make it easier to transport their wheelchairs and scooters, which will improve their quality of life," NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens said.

Current federal law prohibits a manufacturer, distributor, dealer, rental company, or motor vehicle repair business from knowingly making inoperative any part of a device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle in compliance with a Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard. These rules changes, if approved by the NHTSA, would allow a two specific exemptions in an effort to balance mobility and safety in rental car situations.

The public will have 30 days to comment before the process moves forward.

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Nuts & Bolts

 
 

Toyota Safety Sense 2.0 delivers new safety and driver assistance tech to the company's 2021 model lineup.

Photo courtesy of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. Inc.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has made public a list of proposed upgrades to the New Car Assessment Program (NCAP). NCAP testing addresses the crashworthiness of a vehicle as well as the vehicle's headlight functionality. These new proposed measures go even further, putting driver assistance and safety technology to the test.

Automakers often strive to achieve the highest score possible in NCAP testing, wearing their five-start safety ratings and Top Pick designations as badges of honor in marketing campaigns.

"Thanks in part to NCAP, new vehicles today are much safer than a generation ago," said NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens. "Even so, there are still too many fatalities and serious injuries in crashes every year, so it is critical that vehicles keep getting safer in the future, and a modernized NCAP will better enable American families to select vehicles with the safety features they want."

The immediate planned update to NCAP testing includes four advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS): lane keeping support, pedestrian automatic emergency braking, blind spot warning, and blind spot intervention. Engineers have designed these four specific technologies to mitigate high-frequency and high-risk crash types.

NHTSA is currently seeking public input on how best to develop a rating system for ADAS technologies.

"These upgrades will make NCAP more dynamic," Deputy Administrator Owens said. "American car buyers want safety, and NHTSA wants to empower them with comparative safety information about vehicles in the market. This information creates powerful market-based incentives for automakers to invest in advanced safety technologies that will save lives and prevent injuries."

The NHTSA began testing vehicles in 1978. The first tests examined frontal impact protection and used data from crash test dummies. The five-star safety rating system was established in 1993 and have been steadily increasing the scope of the testing over the last two decades.

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Volvo has teamed up with the City of Gothenburg to create an emissions-free zone.

Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

Volkswagen recently announced that it's turning a Greek island green. Volvo is taking their efforts a little closer to home. Volvo Cars has teamed up with the City of Gothenburg, in Sweden, to create new urban zones that will be used as testbeds for future sustainable technologies. Volvo's headquarters is located just west of the town center.

Gothenburg Green City Zone aims to create an emissions-free zone within Sweden's largest port city, taking a holistic approach that will combine the efforts of many technological and government entities working together. To achieve this, the partnership is looking toward climate-neutral transportation modes and a connected infrastructure. As part of the testbed, Volvo plans to run robotaxis operated by its fully-owned mobility provider M, within the zone.

2-Volvo XC40 Recharge The all-electric Volvo XC40 Recharge recently went on sale in the U.S.Photo courtesy of Volvo Car USA

"Essentially, we initiate a project that intends to limit the number of cars in the city – which is fully in line with our company's purpose," said Håkan Samuelsson, chief executive of Volvo Cars. "This is already proven by our investment in the shared mobility service M, who have developed proprietary A.I. technology to improve efficiency and utilization. We want to be involved in creating the cities of the future and keep them livable. This initiative gives us an opportunity to do that and take on responsibility in our own hometown at the same time."

Technology that will be tested in the zone includes geo-enabling solutions and services ensuring that cars in the zone operate in electric-only mode and remain within speed limits, as well as traffic infrastructure that can connect to active safety features in cars and share information between road users. Audi is testing similar vehicle-to-infrastructure technology in Georgia and Virginia.

"We want to use our knowledge and technology to help create a future city that is electrified, connected, shared and climate-neutral," said Henrik Green, Chief Technology Officer at Volvo Cars. "This is an opportunity to lead by example, by testing new technologies and services in a live large scale environment, we can show that if it is possible here, it is possible anywhere."

The partnership is also exploring fully electric mobility hubs, autonomous taxis, and an easy-to-use charging network for electric cars. One aspect of this technology may be park-and-charge sans cord, a method that is getting tested in Norway right now.

Volvo isn't the first city to develop an incubator for emerging tech. Toyota recently announced that it will expand the company's research into renewable energy by creating a city at the base of Mt. Fuji.

The Green City Zone initiative starts in spring 2021 and will gradually scale up going forward.

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