Nonprofit petitions feds to reject GM's steering wheel-less car exemption request

May 23, 2019

In a petition to the NHTSA, the Center for Auto Safety said that General Motors would use "unsuspecting motorists or pedestrians as guinea pigs" if the automaker is allowed to test self-driving cars without steering wheels or pedals on public roads.

The nonprofit advocacy group claimed Monday in a release that both the automaker and the NHTSA have failed to outline specific areas that guarantee public safety, should the self-driving vehicles make their way to streets. GM filed for a temporary exemption from the NHTSA regulations to begin testing its Cruise Automation self-driving car at the beginning of 2018. The car does not have a steering wheel or pedals for a human to operate as a back-up driver.

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The organization said the NHTSA failed to respond to its own petition that called on automakers and companies to turn over safety information to the government. Thus, the Center argued, there's no data-collection element that would allow the public to understand successes, failures, and other outcomes of self-driving car tests. The lack of this system makes granting GM's exemption even more dangerous, the Center added.

Without a fact-driven baseline for what an automaker or company aims to achieve, guidelines remain reckless at best, the Center said.

The Center additionally accused the NHTSA of acting unlawfully by creating a new temporary exemption process in December. The process forgoes public comment requirements, which makes for an incomplete petition submission, it said.

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While the organization said the entire process is unlawful to start, it also nailed down a few areas where GM's own petition fails to protect public safety. The petition does not guarantee that self-driving cars would operate at a level equivalent to human drivers to meet federal safety standards. GM's request makes it clear the self-driving cars would avoid situations that could provide useful data to prove the vehicles are as safe as human drivers.

Finally, the Center called out GM's lack of guarantees for occupants, which may not be alerted to dangerous situations. GM did not detail a plan as to how its self-driving car would come to a stop should something go wrong. Additionally, the automaker's current technology doesn't guarantee the protection of pedestrians and cyclists.

The Center called on GM and the NHTSA to not use "unsuspecting motorists or pedestrians as guinea pigs." GM has not responded to the organization's assertions.

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