GM Holding Talks With NHTSA for Autonomous Cars Without Steering Wheels

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【Summary】Roughly a few years after introducing a petition to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, General Motors is close to getting an answer to self-driving cars without steering wheels or backup drivers.

Original Vineeth Joel Patel    Feb 03, 2020 7:00 AM PT
GM Holding Talks With NHTSA for Autonomous Cars Without Steering Wheels

At the moment, all autonomous vehicles must have a few key things, those being steering wheels and backup drivers. Well, General Motors wants to come out with a small fleet of autonomous vehicles that don't have these two things, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) believes that it will have a decision soon on the automaker's request, reports Reuters. The outlet claims that the NHTSA and GM are holding talks on the manufacturer's plans.

No Human Controls

In 2018, GM requested permission from the NHTSA to deploy a small number of modified Chevrolet Bolt EVs without steering wheels, brake pedals, and accelerator pedals – or any other conventional controls – on public roads. The request was the first of its kind that the NHTSA has ever received. The NHTSA originally delayed its decision because of a fatal accident involving one of Uber's self-driving Volvo's in Arizona.

GM's petition requests permission from the NHTSA to put autonomous vehicles "without a human driver and without human driver controls" on the road. Apparently, the automaker will cap the number of self-driving cars on the road that meet these requirements at 2,500 units a year. The vehicles will be "fully self-driving for all trips" and are meant to, hopefully, advance safety and low-emissions technology for future products.

At approximately the same time as GM's special request, Nuro, a startup company testing autonomous delivery vehicles, sent in a similar request to the NHTSA. Nuro's appeal was for it for the NHTSA to allow fully autonomous delivery cars on the road.

In the article, acting NHTSA Administrator James Owens claims that the administration has plans to respond to both petitions in 2020. "I expect we're going to be able to move forward with these petitions soon – as soon as we can," Owens told Reuters. "This will be a big deal because this will be the first such action that will be taken."

Why Is It Taking So Long?

Officials at the NHTSA, according to Owners, are "crawling through these petitions" because the administration wants to ensure that the autonomous vehicles are at least as safe as human-operated vehicles.

As Car & Driver points out, GM's original 100-page petition clearly laid out why it felt like fully autonomous vehicles would be safer than modern cars on the road. "Because human error or behavior leads to 94 percent of vehicle crashes, technology that eliminates the human driver has the potential to save tens of thousands of lives and to avoid or mitigate hundreds of thousands of vehicle crashes every year in the United States alone," claims the company.

Beyond being the first to have self-driving cars without steering wheels on the road and collecting all of the relevant data from its small fleet, GM is hoping to boost interest in zero-emissions cars (like electric vehicles) by using the Bolt EV. Together, the company's program will help the public become okay with autonomous cars and become more interested in EVs.

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