WASHINGTON, March 15 (Reuters) - The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Friday it was seeking public comment on General Motors’ 15-month-old petition seeking approval to deploy a limited number vehicles on U.S. roads without steering wheels or other human controls.
The agency also disclosed that Softbank-backed driverless delivery startup Nuro had also petitioned to deploy a limited number of low-speed, highly automated delivery vehicles intended to be operated without any human occupants. For example Nuro, which partnered with Kroger last year to deliver groceries, seeks approval not to include a windshield in the vehicle.
The petitions for exemptions are from U.S. vehicle safety rules that were largely written decades ago with the assumption that human drivers were in control.
The Transportation Department said it has not made “any judgment on the GM petition and will accept public comments for at least 60 days as it seeks input on a detailed list of questions about the issues surrounding deploying vehicles without human controls.
GM said it 2018 it planned to deploy the vehicles by the end of 2019 but it is unclear if it will win regulatory approval by the end of this year, especially in light of the 15 months that elapsed without any decisions by the agency.
GM spokesman Patrick Sullivan said the company’s “plans have not changed. We are still seeking approval for the petition.”
GM said it would initially limit the speed of the test fleet of no more than 2,500 modified Chevrolet Bolt EVs as part of a GM-controlled ridesharing fleet.
Last year, Congress failed to pass sweeping legislation to speed the deployment of self-driving cars on U.S. roads, while a fatal crash of an Uber Technologies Inc self-driving vehicle with a back-up safety driver in the front seat raised public alarm. (Reporting by David Shepardson Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)