Autonomous cars on US roads with no brake pedals, steering wheels just edged closer

US paves the way for new rules catering to autonomous vehicles without human controls.
Written by Liam Tung, Contributing Writer

Road users in the US may soon see self-driving cars without human controls under a pilot program proposed by the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The agency is seeking public feedback on a proposed pilot to test vehicles "that lack controls for human drivers and thus may not comply with all existing safety standards" and do so in real-world scenarios, it said in a document released Thursday.

As noted by Reuters, NHTSA said vehicles in the program may need features to disable them if a sensor fails or limit their maximum speeds.

The pilot would aim to test autonomous vehicles rated as Level 4 and Level 5, which are respectively fully autonomous vehicles with a safe fallback mode, and fully autonomous vehicles without human controls, such as brake and accelerator pedals or steering wheels.

SEE: Tech and the future of transportation (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

NHTSA wants to know in what categories it should collect data from participants. Among them it imagines the scenario where drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists "take advantage" of autonomous vehicles that are programmed to give way to avoid collisions.

Other categories include statistics about crashes and injuries, sensor data from crashes and near misses, the impact of multiple autonomous vehicles on vehicle spacing, software updates and their reasons for being issued, and difficult scenarios when the vehicle falls back to a human controlled state.

The agency hasn't yet committed to a pilot program and will use the feedback to decide whether to proceed with one.

The proposed trial follows the NHTSA's release of the Automated Vehicles 3.0 voluntary guidelines, which outlined that the Department of Transport "intends to reconsider the necessity and appropriateness of its current safety standards" applied to autonomous vehicles.

The NHTSA said at the time it would seek comment on "proposed changes to particular safety standards to accommodate automated vehicle technologies and the possibility of setting exceptions to certain standards" for autonomous vehicles "that are relevant only when human drivers are present".

As noted by Reuters last week, GM in January asked to be exempt from current rules to use vehicles without steering wheels for its proposed ride-sharing fleet planned for release in 2019.

Alphabet's Waymo autonomous car businesses also plans to launch a driverless ride-hailing service in Arizona this year.

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