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GM Faces Pushback From U.S. Regulators in its Effort to Deploy Self-Driving Cars

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【Summary】GM requested that U.S. regulators waive some automobile safety standards, including deploying autonomous vehicles without a steering wheel or pedals, to make it possible to deploy a ride-sharing fleet of driverless cars.

Eric Walz    May 22, 2019 5:03 PM PT
GM Faces Pushback From U.S. Regulators in its Effort to Deploy Self-Driving Cars

Despite all of the recent news about them, self-driving cars are still not allowed to operate on roads in the U.S. Some states like California, issue a special DMV permit allowing certain companies to test driverless vehicles on public roads, as long as a safety driver is sitting behind the wheel and other requirements are met.

However General Motors (GM) has big plans for a robo-taxi service it hopes to launch soon together with its self-driving arm Cruise Automation. GM requested that U.S. regulators waive some automobile safety standards, including deploying autonomous vehicles without a steering wheel or pedals, to make it possible to deploy a ride-sharing fleet of driverless cars.

The automaker first made the request for a two-year temporary waiver on features that don't apply to cars without human drivers, including features like mirrors, dashboard warning lights and turn signal stalks designed for a human driver in a petition filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in Jan 2018.

In March, NHTSA made the petition available for public comment for the 60 days that ended on Monday.

GM said it wants to deploy no more than 2,500 modified Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles as part of a on-demand ride-sharing fleet, likely to be based out of San Francisco, when Cruise has been testing the technology on public streets, by the end of 2019.

GM purchased San Francisco-based Cruise in March 2016 for around $1 billion, in order to jumpstart its own autonomous driving development. At the time, Cruise was a budding startup developing self-driving technology. The company now works alongside GM, outfitting Chevy Bolt EVs with hardware and software for autonomous driving.

In Nov 2018, GM president Dan Ammann was appointed CEO of Cruise.

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A Chevy Bolt EV without human controls is what the automaker is looking to deploy in a robo-taxi service. (Photo: GM)

However several industry groups, including car dealers and insurance companies, have raised questions and pressed the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to demand more data, require additional safety provisions for the vehicles, or deny the petition altogether.

The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies said driverless vehicles without human controls should not be permitted on public roads until data proves the cars are safe.

"NHTSA has no business enabling (automated vehicles) to operate on the roads, and surely has no business removing federally mandated vehicle safety standards to a vehicle that they do not know if it's as safe as existing vehicles," said the group, which represents 43 percent of U.S. auto insurance companies.

According to Reuters, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) said GM should not be allowed to withhold safety features like high-beam headlights from the vehicle and should design the vehicle to require passengers to wear safety belts.

Backers of GM's plan include Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD), the National Federation of the Blind, the Telecommunications Industry Association and American Trucking Associations, which say autonomous vehicles have the potential to drastically reduce accidents.

According to the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS), more than 37,000 people were killed and 2.7 million injured in 6.4 million crashes on U.S. roads in 2017. The NHTSA determined that human error is a factor in more than 90 percent of all crashes.

The American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators also said the NHTSA should require driverless vehicles to "utilize some sort of signage or a universal indicator to alert first responders, potential passengers and other road users that the vehicles do not comply with federal safety standards."

The Union of Concerned Scientists said the automaker should produce more data on how GM self-driving cars on the road now are performing with backup safety drivers and called for the petition to be rejected.

GM spokeswoman Jeannine Ginivan declined to address specific comments. "We will review the many comments received and respond as appropriate," she said.

NHTSA said on Wednesday it would also seek public comment "on the removal of unnecessary regulatory barriers to the safe introduction of automated driving systems" as part of its wider efforts to draw up a body of regulations for self-driving cars.

resource from: Reuters

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