GM’s Self Driving Car Service Allowed to Test Vehicles Without Safety Drivers in California

General Motors’ Cruise, a self-driving car service, announced that it received a permit on Thursday from the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to “remove the human backup drivers from” its autonomous vehicles; although, the company has had a permit to test autonomous vehicles with safety drivers since 2015. Cruise said it is “not the first company to receive this permit, but we’re going to be the first to put it to use on the streets of a major U.S. city.”

Cruise stated that by the end of 2020, it will be deploying its fleet of 200 electric Chevy Bolts onto the streets of San Francisco “without gasoline and without anyone at the wheel.” It said this is the plan “because safely removing the driver is the true benchmark of a self-driving car, and because burning fossil fuels is no way to build the future of transportation.”

Cruise’s CEO, Dan Ammann, added: “It will be a low key, quiet moment. But the echo could be loud. I get it — the drama of this might be hard to appreciate. All anyone will see is a car, silently driving by itself through the city. Not speeding. Not crashing. Just quietly cruising … But even without a literal launch into the sky, this is our moonshot. And the chaotic, gritty streets of (San Francisco) are our launchpad. This is where years of blood, sweat, and tears have been poured out by everyone on the Cruise mission. And it’s where over two million miles of city testing will truly hit the road for the first time: an electric car, driving by itself, navigating one of the most difficult driving cities in the world.”

The permit, which is valid for two years, has certain restrictions. For example, the DMV stated that Cruise can test “five autonomous vehicles without a driver behind the wheel on specified streets within San Francisco. The vehicles are designed to operate on roads with posted speeds limits not exceeding 30 miles per hour, during all times of the day and night, but will not test during heavy fog or heavy rain.”

To receive a driverless testing permit, companies must show that they have insurance of a bond equal to $5 million, and other rules, including verifying that vehicles are able to drive without a driver and comply with Motor Vehicle Safety Standards or are exempt, notifying local governments of planned testing in an area, and training remote operators on this technology, among others. Permit holders must also send the DMV reports of any collisions that involve driverless vehicles within 10days. Other companies to receive this driverless permit from California’s DMV are AutoX Technologies, Nuro, Waymo, and Zoox. Additionally, in California there are at least 60 companies allowed to test autonomous vehicles with a safety driver.

In April the National highway Traffic Safety (NHTSA) authority proposed rules for autonomous vehicles, which adjusted the standard vehicle rules for human-driven vehicles. In 2019, the NHTSA stated that it would seek public comment and conduct a review for Cruise’s federal application for exemption to deploy a fleet of completely driverless Chevy Bolt vehicles without steering wheels or pedals; however, the NHTSA has not issued a final decision yet.