General Motors is asking regulators for exemptions to federal safety standards so that it can put a self-driving car without a steering wheel or brake pedal onto U.S. roads as soon as next year.

The Cruise AV, based on the Chevrolet Bolt EV, would be a significant milestone on the road to self-driving cars.

There’s no accelerator planned, either, in the automated vehicle that GM says will be ready for production next year. As a first step toward rolling it out, GM filed a petition with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for an exemption from federal safety standards.

“It’s the first vehicle built from the ground up to operate safely with no driver, steering wheel, pedal, or manual controls,” said Ray Wert, a spokesman for GM. “These are vehicles that are designed to drive safely on their own.”

Most of the self-driving cars on the road today have a steering wheel and brake pedal so that a human can take over if needed. And in most areas of the country where testing is taking place on public roads, local authorities have required that companies have test drivers on hand to take over in case of an emergency. A vehicle with no manual controls is another psychological threshold the industry believes it has to cross to win public acceptance.

There’s some evidence that won’t be easy. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety and the Consumer Federation of America are releasing a poll today that shows “significant and widespread concerns” among the U.S. public about the development and deployment of self-driving cars.

Under current law, it’s illegal to deploy vehicles on public roads if those vehicles don’t meet all of the existing federal regulations. GM has said its first production automated vehicles will be in some kind of ride-hailing or ride-sharing arrangement. It owns a stake in Lyft and currently operates the ride-sharing company Maven in 11 cities.

The Cruise AV was developed with Cruise Automation, the San Francisco–based self-driving car company that GM acquired in March 2016. It’s based on the Chevrolet Bolt electric car. It’s not to be confused with the Chevy Cruze, a conventional small car, or Super Cruise, the driver-assistance technology available on certain Cadillac models.

GM also released today a safety report for its self-driving cars, becoming the second automaker to do so. Under a voluntary federal policy, the government encourages companies developing technology for self-driving cars to issue public reports that explain how they test and validate safety.

Like the report Waymo issued last year, GM’s report discusses how its sensors and software work, and how it validates new technology at GM test tracks with driving simulators and on-the-road experience. It doesn’t provide any hard data on how many accidents, near misses, or injuries have been recorded during road tests.

The Cruise AV has 360-degree vision, both night and day, GM says. It can identify pedestrians or an object darting into its path and will respond accordingly. Testing in the busy streets of San Francisco, one of the most complex driving environments in the world, gave the world’s largest automaker the confidence that it was time to remove manual controls, according to the safety report.

“Our Cruise AV has the potential to provide a level of safety far beyond the capabilities of humans,” the company said in the report. “As our experience and iterative improvements continue, we will advance closer to our zero crashes vision.”


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