Autonomous vehicles have the potential to limit traffic fatalities. Turns out though, that not all safety groups are excited about automakers skirting safety regulation in the small-scale implementation of self-driving cars.
- GM wants to deploy 2,500 self-driving Bolt EVs as a part of a ride-hailing service in San Francisco by the end of 2019.
- To do so, GM asked NHTSA that its vehicles not be required to include mirrors, turn signals, and dashboard warning lights, etc.
- Groups spoke out against the request, including IIHS, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, and the Union for Concerned Scientists.
- Organizations broadly called for carmakers to first demonstrate automated vehicle safety before they’re deployed on roadways.
- Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Federation of the Blind, the Telecommunications Industry Association and American Trucking Associations all backed the plan.
Back in January, 2018 General Motors asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) for a two-year waiver of certain federally mandated vehicle safety rules. GM requested certain vehicle features, including mirrors, turn signals, and dashboard warning lights, for example, not be required for a small fleet (no more than 2,500 vehicles) of self-driving Bolt EV robotaxis the carmaker planned to deploy by the end of 2019 in San Francisco
Before GM could enact its plans, NHTSA opened up the request to public comment for 60 day, which ended last week. Many safety groups urged NHTSA to reject the request, citing a myriad of safety concerns, according to a Reuters report.
National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, the organization that represents 43% of U.S. auto insurers said, “NHTSA has no business enabling (automated vehicles) to operate on the roads, and surely has no business removing federally mandated vehicle safety standards to a vehicle that they do not know if it’s as safe as existing vehicles.”
Furthermore, NAMIC suggested makers of autonomous cars need to first prove that they are safe before they can be used on the road. This was echoed by the Union of Concerned Scientists, which pointed out that even during normal testing GM’s automated Bolt EVs include a human backup driver. The Union pointed out that GM’s current fleet of autonomous test vehicles have been involved in 69 crashes to date — even with that backup human onboard.
That said, it’s worth pointing out that not all of those crashes occurred when the vehicles were in self-driving mode. Nevertheless, the Union felt that the driving style of GM’s self-driving cars “does not conform to typical driver behavior, leading to confusion or frustration among other road users.”
In its comment to NHTSA, American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators wrote that autonomous vehicles ought to “utilize some sort of signage or a universal indicator to alert first responders, potential passengers and other road users that the vehicles do not comply with federal safety standards.”
Meanwhile, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) called for features like high-beam headlights to remain a requirement for self-driving vehicles. It also recommended that GM design the vehicles to require occupants to wear a seatbelt.
Not all comments were against GM’s request. Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Federation of the Blind, the Telecommunications Industry Association and American Trucking Associations all backed the plan because of the fact that that automated vehicles have the potential to reduce auto crash-related deaths and injuries.