WASHINGTON, DC–The National Highway Traffic Administration (NHTSA) is asking the public for comments about whether vehicles without steering wheels or brake pedals should be allowed on the street.
NHTSA has delayed action on a request by General Motors to deploy a limited number of vehicles with neither steering wheels or brake pedals. Companies like Uber, WayMo, and, Apple have been testing autonomous driving on city streets, but with “safety drivers” aboard.
A fatal 2018 accident involving an autonomous vehicle by Uber accelerated review by NHTSA, which has been backed up on several regulatory initiatives since 2016. Under the Trump administration, the post of NHTSA administrator has gone unfilled, while day-to-day business is led by Deputy Administrator Heidi King, who reports to Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Forecasts: Self Driving Cars will be the norm by 2030
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, automated delivery vehicles.
NHTSA is accepting comments for 60 days.
GM hopes to deploy some 2500 Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles in 2020 as part of a test ride-sharing fleet around the San Francisco area. GM will have to demonstrate that these vehicles are as safe as the conventional Bolts in order to get exemptions from NHTSA.
Waymo last year deployed autonomous vehicles on the road in Arizona. But those vehicles have a “safety driver ” aboard and did not eliminate the steering wheel, brake pedal, or mirrors, all of which are required by BHTSA. Brake systems are crucial for autonomous-vehicle technology for obvious reasons. The systems have to be integrated with sensors and cameras to automatically brake without driver input. Indeed, brake suppliers and system integration companies are at the center of autonomous vehicle development.
The first fully self-driving cars are expected to go into production by 2020-2021. Analysts have said self-driving cars will not be in wide use before 2030.