U.S. Senators Consult with Barra on Autonomous Vehicles

General Motors CEO, Mary Barra, met with two key US senators, Chair Maria Cantwell of the Senate Commerce Committee and Senator Gary Peters, a fellow Democrat and member of the Commerce Committee, on Thursday, to push for legislation to speed up the deployment of self-driving cars. GM has been petitioning for over six years for legislation to ease regulations to deploy autonomous vehicles, but to no avail. With China leading the race in autonomous technology, Peters emphasized the urgency of American manufacturing keeping up and creating jobs in the US.

In February of 2022, GM and its self-driving technology unit, Cruise, petitioned the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for permission to deploy up to 2,500 self-driving vehicles annually without traditional car features like steering wheels, mirrors, turn signals, or windshield wipers. GM is hoping to deploy its Origin car, which features subway-like doors and no steering wheels, and says that passengers will be required to buckle up before an autonomous ride. Although the NHTSA opened the petition for public commentary in July, it has yet to respond or act on the request.

In 2017, the US House of Representatives passed by a voice vote a bill that would speed up the adoption of self-driving cars, disallowing states from setting performance standards, and expand the number of vehicles in circulation with exemptions. However, the bill did not pass the Senate.

Cruise has been advocating for presidential support for self-driving cars, urging President Joe Biden to back legislation, stating the US was at risk of lagging behind China. However, in December 2021, the NHTSA opened a safety probe into the autonomous driving system in Cruise vehicles following reports of two injuries in rear-end crashes. The NHTSA said it received complaints that the self-driving Cruise vehicles “may engage in inappropriately hard braking or become immobilized.” Cruise is cooperating with the investigation and reporting that they have had “nearly 700,000 fully autonomous miles in an extremely complex urban environment with zero life-threatening injuries or fatalities”.

GM, along with other automakers, continues to push for legislation to ease regulations, speed up the deployment of autonomous vehicles, and ensure America stays competitive in the race for autonomous technology.