Details of exemptions sought by GM, Ford for self-driving systems released by NHTSA

Kalea Hall
The Detroit News

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Wednesday released details of requests submitted by Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Co. to waive some federal safety standards for automated driving programs, moving the automakers a step closer to their AV visions. 

The petitions detail how automated vehicles would meet standards differently than human-driven vehicles. Ford last year requested exemptions for vehicles that have the automated driving systems for controlled deployment of the vehicles on tested roadways. 

GM is seeking exemptions for the Cruise Origin, the self-driving shuttle Cruise LLC, a majority-owned GM company, is making in partnership with Honda Motor Co. In February, GM submitted an application with NHTSA for approval to build and commercially deploy the self-driving shuttle. 

“NHTSA will carefully examine each petition to ensure safety is prioritized and to include considerations of access for people with disabilities, equity and the environment," NHTSA Administrator to Dr. Steven Cliff said in a statement.

The release of Ford's and GM's petitions gets the automakers a step closer to a decision by NHTSA. The agency has set a 30-day comment period that will begin Thursday on both requests. There's no deadline for when NHTSA must a decision on the petitions.

Ford's request

Ford wants exemptions for controls and displays; transmission shift position sequence, starter interlock, and transmission braking effect; lamps, reflective devices, and associated equipment; rear visibility; electronic stability control systems; light vehicle brake systems; and tire pressure monitoring systems.

The petition does not specify the vehicle or vehicles included in the exemption request. They will use a hybrid-electric vehicle platform "that has been specifically designed and tailored to support mobility services such as ride sharing, ride hailing and package delivery."

"This petition is an important step toward helping create a regulatory path that allows autonomous technologies to mature over time, eliminating controls and displays that are only useful to human drivers," Ford spokesman Brad Carroll said in a statement. "We look forward to continuing to work with NHTSA on our shared goal to shape the future of smart mobility."

Among some of its arguments in the petition, Ford says the vehicles in question have a communication network that "directly receives the information the regulated features were meant to communicate to human drivers, and often in greater detail" and the system is "immediately capable of responding to that information."

The vehicle, when in AV mode, does not meet certain requirements for lighting-related controls, indicators and performance elements, but Ford says that meeting these requirements is not necessary with no human driver. 

And instead of a traditional review image, the vehicle's automated system in AV mode uses sensors for visibility that "allow the vehicle to detect the environment during operation at all times."

GM's request 

The Cruise Origin operates solely on an automated driving technology and does not have manual driving controls like a steering wheel and pedals. 

Specifically, GM wants exemptions for the transmission shift position sequence, starter interlock and transmission braking effect; the windshield wiping and washing systems; lamps, reflective devices and associated equipment; rear visibility; occupant protection in interior impact; and occupant crash protection.  

Among its arguments seeking the exemptions, the Detroit automaker said "the Origin, unlike a human, does not need transmission shift positions to be presented visibly in relation to each other because the Origin is programmed to always select the correct shift position and the ADS knows which position it is selecting."

For its windshield wiping and visibility exemption request, GM argues the Origin doesn't need to have the same visibility as a human driver since it relies on a sensor system. It also doesn't need manual light devices since the Origin's system controls its lighting and signals automatically. 

For the occupant protection exemption requests, federal safety standards require a sun visor for each front seat, but GM says they are not necessary since the Origin has no human driver in need of better visibility. 

GM and Cruise "will continue to work with the agency as their review continues and remain eager in seeing the fully autonomous Cruise Origin on the road in the years to come," the automaker said in a statement.

GM previously said it would start to manufacture the Cruise Origin at its Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Center starting next year.

Staff writers Jordyn Grzelewski and Riley Beggin contributed