U.S. regulators are on the verge of making a crucial decision regarding a petition submitted by General Motors Cruise self-driving technology unit. The petition, filed in February 2022, is seeking permission to deploy up to 2,500 self-driving vehicles annually without human controls. According to a top auto safety official, the National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTSA) acting Administrator Ann Carlson stated on Wednesday that the agency will issue a decision in the coming weeks.
General Motors Cruise self-driving technology unit
The heart of the matter revolves around determining whether computer-driven vehicles necessitate compliance with safety standards primarily designed for human drivers. Carlson emphasized the need to address requirements like mirrors, sun visors, and windshield wipers when dealing with vehicles that rely on computer systems rather than human operators.
Cruise, the autonomous vehicle subsidiary of General Motors, declined to provide any comments regarding the ongoing petition.
Presently, Cruise operates a limited service in San Francisco with a small fleet of Chevrolet Bolt vehicles equipped with driverless technology. However, Cruise has bigger plans in mind. They intend to deploy their cutting-edge Origin vehicle, which boasts subway-like doors and eliminates the need for traditional steering wheels.
This is not the first time General Motors has sought permission for such advancements. In 2018, the company filed a petition with the NHTSA to allow the use of a Chevrolet Bolt model without steering wheels or brake pedals on U.S. roads. Unfortunately, the agency took no action, leading GM to withdraw the petition in 2020.
Additionally, the NHTSA possesses the authority to grant exemptions for autonomous vehicles (AVs) intended for research and demonstration purposes. Carlson mentioned that the agency is currently considering the establishment of a new program aimed at increasing transparency regarding AV safety and deployment. The objective is to ensure that the public has confidence in the NHTSA’s oversight of AVs on public streets.
Meanwhile, Congress has been engaged in lengthy discussions regarding the legislation surrounding self-driving cars. In the upcoming weeks, a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives is planning to hold a hearing on this matter.
In 2017, the House passed a legislation designed to accelerate the adoption of self-driving vehicles. The bill included provisions to prevent states from setting performance standards and to expand the number of exempted vehicles that could be deployed. However, this legislation did not receive approval from the Senate, leaving the matter unresolved.
Adding to the complexity, in December, the NHTSA initiated a formal safety probe into the autonomous driving system employed in Cruise vehicles. This action was taken following reports of two injuries resulting from rear-end collisions. The NHTSA stated that Cruise vehicles may exhibit inappropriate hard braking or become immobilized, prompting a closer investigation into the matter.
As the U.S. regulators prepare to make their decision on General Motors’ petition, the outcome will likely have a significant impact on the future of self-driving vehicles and the safety standards that govern them.