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General Motors' driverless car petition reaches public review stage

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on March 15 said it is seeking public comment on General Motors Co.'s petition to introduce self-driving cars without steering wheels, gear shifts and brake pedals on public roads.

General Motors requested exemptions from parts of 16 federal motor vehicle safety standards in January 2018 in an attempt to launch a self-driving fleet of Chevrolet Bolt electric vehicles.

Approval from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, would grant GM a two-year window to produce up to 2,500 zero-emission automated vehicles, or ZEAVs. Over the next 60 days, the public can access the carmaker's petition to comment on proposed policies.

For the exemption to be granted, the NHTSA will facilitate a series of tests to compare the ZEAV's decision-making process with that of a human driver. The industry body added that it will need to review the vehicle's crash-avoidance technology and will require GM to submit results of its safety testing.

The NHTSA also provided the public with questions to generate feedback, which it will consider in deciding whether or not to pass GM's request. The questionnaire aims to gather public opinion on GM's bases for exemption, safety analysis and the terms and conditions of the petition.

At the end of the 60-day period, the regulator will post its decision in the Federal Register.

A General Motors spokesman told S&P Global Market Intelligence that "safety is the cornerstone of our approach to the design, development and testing of our ZEAVs," and that it believes human error is a leading cause of over 90% of crashes.

Separately, CEO Mary Barra has said should GM fail to win approval, it could launch an autonomous fleet of taxis in San Francisco using its current self-driving cars which contain pedals, mirrors and a steering wheel, Detroit News reported March 15.

The NHTSA has also requested public comments on robotics company Nuro Inc.'s petition for exemption from several motor vehicle safety standards. The Silicon Valley-based company plans to introduce low-speed, self-driving delivery vehicles without rearview mirrors, windshields or rear visibility camera systems.

As with the GM petition, the NHTSA will gather feedback using a questionnaire for 60 days before deciding on an outcome.