US to decide on GM request to deploy self-driving cars

WASHINGTON, July 12 (Reuters) – U.S. regulators will soon decide on a petition filed by General Motors’ (GM.N) Cruise self-driving technology unit seeking permission to deploy up to 2,500 self-driving vehicles annually without human controls, a top auto safety official said on Wednesday.

The petition, filed in February 2022, seeks government approval to deploy vehicles annually without steering wheels, mirrors, turn signals or windshield wipers. National Highway Traffic Safety acting Administrator Ann Carlson said Wednesday the agency “will issue a decision “in the coming weeks.”

“The central issue is deciding whether vehicles that are driven not by humans but by computers need to comply with safety standards that are fundamentally about human drivers: requirements for mirrors, sun visors, windshield wipers and so forth,” Carlson said.

Cruise declined to comment.

Cruise currently offers a limited service in San Francisco with a small fleet of Chevrolet Bolt vehicles fitted with driverless technology. Cruise wants to deploy its Origin vehicle, which has subway-like doors and no steering wheels.

In 2018, GM petitioned the NHTSA to allow a car built on a Chevrolet Bolt without steering wheels or brake pedals on U.S. roads. In 2020, GM withdrew the petition after the agency took no action.

The NHTSA can also exempt autonomous vehicles, or AVs, for research and demonstration purposes. Carlson said the agency is looking to establish a new program that “would provide additional transparency about AV safety and deployment while giving the public assurance that NHTSA is overseeing the deployment of AVs on our public streets.”

Congress has been debating for years whether to pass legislation on self-driving cars, and a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee is planning a hearing later this month.

In 2017, the House passed legislation to speed the adoption of self-driving cars, bar states from setting performance standards and expand the number of vehicles that could be deployed with exemptions, but the measure never passed the Senate.

In December, the NHTSA opened a formal safety probe into the autonomous driving system in vehicles produced by Cruise after reports of two injuries in rear-end crashes. The NHTSA said Cruise vehicles “may engage in inappropriately hard braking or become immobilized.”

Reporting by David Shepardson; editing by Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler