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U.S. Regulators Seeking Public Opinion on Driverless Cars Without Steering Wheels or Brake Pedals

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【Summary】Will the general public feel safe sharing the road with driverless vehicles without steering wheels or brake pedals, including being a passenger in one of these autonomous vehicles? More importantly, are these cars actually safe? These are some of the questions regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) want answered and the agency is asking the public for their comments.

FutureCar Staff    Mar 15, 2019 12:49 PM PT
U.S. Regulators Seeking Public Opinion on Driverless Cars Without Steering Wheels or Brake Pedals
GM wants to deploy a fleet of Chevy Bolt EVs without driver controls for an autonomous ride-hailing service.

Will the general public feel safe sharing the road with driverless vehicles without steering wheels or brake pedals, including being a passenger in one of these autonomous vehicles? More importantly, are these cars actually safe enough to deploy on public roads?

These are some of the questions regulators at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) want to answer and the agency is asking the public for their comments.

The public comments will help the NHTSA set requirements of the design of future vehicles in the U.S.

15 months ago, General Motors requested to deploy a limited number of modified Chevy Bolt EVs on U.S. roads without steering wheels or other human controls such as a brake pedal. This request was the first of its kind for the NHTSA.

In GM's petition, NHTSA will for the first time compare a vehicle in which all driving decisions are made by a computer versus a human driver. NHTSA called it "an important case of first impression," presenting "novel and important issues."

The NHTSA has delayed its response, partially due to the fatal accident involving a self-driving vehicle operated by Uber in Arizona. In that incident, the self-driving Volvo XC90 Uber was operating with a human backup behind the wheel failed to stop for a pedestrian crossing the roadway.

The Bolt is also being tested with humans behind the wheel in a autonomous ride-hailing pilot with GM Cruise, the company's self-driving division that is based in San Francisco. Cruise is outfitting the vehicles with a suite of autonomous driving hardware and software.

This week's plane crash of a Boeing 737 has brought intense scrutiny to the safety of computerized and automated systems used in aircraft as well as self-driving vehicles.

NHTSA is also seeking public comment on a separate petition by Softbank Corp-backed driverless delivery startup Nuro to deploy a limited number of low-speed, autonomous delivery vehicles without human occupants.

Nuro's vehicles are not designed to carry passengers and have no controls for steering or braking. The  windowless vehicles lack seats or safety system designed to protect human drivers in the event of a crash, since they are intended to carry passengers.

Nuro, which partnered with grocery chain Kroger last year to deliver groceries, is seeking approval not to include a windshield in the vehicle.

The petitions by GM and Nuro seek exemptions from antiquated U.S. vehicle safety rules that assume human drivers would always be in control of a vehicle.

The NHTSA is seeking input on a detailed list of questions about the issues surrounding deploying vehicles without human controls.

NHTSA said it will accept public comments for at least 60 days.

GM has said it hoped to deploy the Chevy Bolts without driver controls by the end of this year, but the automaker is still waiting for approval, since 15 months have already passed without a decision from the NHTSA. In the meantime, GM continues to test and refine its self-driving software.

GM spokesman Patrick Sullivan said on Friday the company's "plans have not changed. We are still seeking approval for the petition."

GM said it would initially limit the speed of the test fleet for improved safety. The automaker is looking to deploy a fleet of 2,500 or less modified Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles as part of a planned commercial autonomous ride-hailing service the automaker is planning to launch with Cruise in San Francisco.

However, in order to be granted a temporary exemption, GM must demonstrate that its driverless vehicles are as safe as human drivers. However, after Uber's fatal accident in Arizona put the spotlight on the safety of autonomous technology for the entire industry, that remains unclear.


resource from: Reuters

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