U.S. to Allow Cars Without Steering Wheels

New voluntary guidelines from NHTSA will allow cars specifically designed for Level 4 autonomous driving on the road

Cars without steering wheels will be allowed under certain conditions, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said today in an 80-page report.

The report gives guidelines, which are voluntary. Precise rules, which are binding, have yet to be spelled out. But the policy clearly is to cut rules whenever possible while reserving the right to tighten regulation if problems should emerge. “When regulation is needed, USDOT [U.S. Department of Transportation] will seek rules that are as non-prescriptive and performance-based as possible,” the report says.

Two bills in Congress aim to achieve such goals on a national level, in many cases overruling states and localities. The U.S. House of Representatives has passed its bill, but the U.S. Senate version has stalled. Consumer advocates have protested measures in the proposed legislation that they maintain would sacrifice safety.

Today the Center for Auto Safety leveled the same charge at NHTSA’s report, saying that it “perfectly captures this administration’s approach to protecting people: Get out of the way and let industry drive.” The Center added that “NHTSA should require those wishing to use public roads, instead of closed tracks, to submit evidence to NHTSA that their technology is safe before involuntarily involving human beings in their testing.”

One company that would particularly benefit from the new rules is GM Cruise, the self-driving subsidiary of General Motors. It has designed a steering-wheel-free version of the all-electric Chevrolet Bolt and plans to use it next year in a commercial ride-hailing project. Waymo, a subsidiary of Alphabet, plans a similar project later this year, but its cars will have steering wheels, even if nobody will be sitting behind them.

09. Oktober 2018

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