'Fact' check: Biden order stalls new autonomous and replica vehicle safety rules

Regulations enacted under Trump are under review

President Biden has put the brakes on rules regarding autonomous vehicle safety and low volume replica car manufacturing announced in the final days of the Trump administration.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Jan. 14 posted an update to the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that included new crash safety rules for fully-autonomous vehicles designed without steering controls that would allow for street legal vehicles to be built without a designated "driver's" seat and its unique safety equipment or any passenger accomodations at all.

GM's Cruise division is planning to build autonomous taxis without steering wheels, while Florida's Revology sells brand new replicas of classic Ford Mustangs.

GM's Cruise division is planning to build autonomous taxis without steering wheels, while Florida's Revology sells brand new replicas of classic Ford Mustangs. (Cruise/Revology)

The agency on Jan. 19 also finalized rules approved for enactment by a bill signed by President Obama in 2015 that established guidelines for small automakers to produce up to 325 new historic replica vehicles annually that are exempt from having to meet current crash testing standards. The Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) had filed a lawsuit in 2019 to press for the long-delayed rules, which dozens of small automakers are expected to take advantage of thanks to the reduction in compliance costs.

However, on Inauguration Day, Biden signed an executive order directing all federal agencies to freeze new regulations and delay the implementation of those that had recently been published in the Federal Register, in order to conduct a further review and new public comment period.

The executive order instructs the agencies to "propose or issue no rule in any manner — including by sending a rule to the Office of the Federal Register (the "OFR") — until a department or agency head appointed or designated by the President after noon on January 20, 2021, reviews and approves the rule."

For rules that had been published in the OFR prior to the order, agencies are asked to postpone their implementation for 60 days to determine if they raise any "substantial questions of fact, law, or policy," which should be discussed with the Office of Management and Budget Director.

Fox News Autos has learned that both of NHSTA’s announcements have since been removed from the agency’s website and neither rule appears in the Federal Register. NHTSA declined to comment on the changes to Fox News Autos.

Jason Levine, Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety, who was critical of the autonomous car regulations, sees an opportunity in their review.

"The Biden administration is to be commended for putting a freeze on a series of midnight rulemakings which seemed more focused on claiming progress than furthering a coherent federal self-driving car policy grounded in the safety of everyone inside and outside of vehicles," Levine told Fox News Autos. "We look forward to working with the new leadership at DOT in their efforts to restore the "safety" to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, including standardizing advanced driver assistance systems and bringing actual oversight to a rapidly changing passenger motor vehicle ecosystem."

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In regard to the long-delayed replica car law, which will make it easier for consumers to purchase and register vehicles based on those at least 25 years old than current regulations allow, SEMA’s director of Federal Government Affairs, Stuart Gosswein, remains optimistic that it will soon go into effect.

"SEMA is working to ensure an expedited review process and is confident the rule will be published in the coming months. Companies want to begin hiring workers and producing replicas for eager customers."

The White House has not responded to a request for comment from Fox News Autos.