What the New DOT Rental Car Regs Really Mean


There’s been a lot of chatter about a proposed rule released last month by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). Press releases were distributed  to the media about the proposed changes, which resulted in a glut of editorial coverage. Unfortunately many of the people who wrote about the proposed changes were unfamiliar with the existing ADA regulations for rental cars. As a result, headlines like “New ADA Rules Will Make Rental Cars More Accessible” began to appear.

And those headlines are rather misleading.

Rental car companies are already required to install adaptive equipment on rental vehicles with 48 hours notice. And that won’t change. One part of the proposed rule will however allow them to disable some safety features in order to install that equipment. It’s a much needed update, but consumers won’t even notice the difference.

Enterprise actually petitioned the NHTSA for this part of the rule change. Specifically they want the NHTSA to allow car rental companies to disconnect the knee bolster air bag on some models, in order to permit the temporary installation of hand controls.

And the NHTSA supports this change. The rule was open for public comment until January 27, 2021, and with relatively no opposition it will most likely be added to the final rule later this year.

A second proposal — that doesn’t have anything to do with rental cars — was submitted by Bruno Independent Living Aids. They petitioned for a rule change so that their rear-mounted platform lifts could be installed on vehicles that have back-up cameras. Currently a lift can not be installed if it partially blocks the view of the back-up camera.

The NHTSA recognizes that this request presents a trade-off between the benefits of a back-up camera balanced against enhanced mobility for people with disabilities. It is also expected that this change will be added to the final rule.

So all in all, this rule will just make things easier for companies that provide mobility modifications on vehicles, and end-users will most likely not even notice the small changes.