The US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released the final rule for modernising driverless vehicle safety standards.

NHTSA’s new rule updates several Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards and clarifies doubts in current occupant protection standards for vehicles outfitted with automated driving system that are built without the usual manual driver controls.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator James Owens said: “With more than 90% of serious crashes caused by driver error, it’s vital that we remove unnecessary barriers to technology that could help save lives.

“We do not want regulations enacted long before the development of automated technologies to present an unintended and unnecessary barrier to innovation and improved vehicle safety.”

NHTSA’s final rule is said to be one of the regulatory actions taken by the agency to further modernise vehicle standards for new technologies.

The new rule amends several crashworthiness regulations and exempts automated vehicles designed never to carry anybody, including drivers, from crashworthiness standards.

However, NHTSA said that the rule for occupant protection requirements will not change for traditional vehicles with manual driver controls.

In another development, the US Department of Transportation (USDOT) has disbursed $40m in grants to states trying to improve the safety of rail line intersections with highways.

In coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA), FHWA will award these grants to help commuter rail authorities in California, Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania and Washington keep highway-railway crossings hazard-free.

Acting US Transportation Secretary Steven Bradbury said: “This $40m in grants will help states improve safety at commuter rail crossings in rural and urban areas across America.”