US Clears Way for Driverless Vehicles Without Steering Wheels or Pedals

by Clayton Edwards

Over the past couple of years, self-driving or driverless vehicles have become more prevalent. However, those vehicles still have manual controls by law. So, even if a car or truck could technically drive itself around town, it still had to have pedals as well as a steering wheel. That all changed earlier this week when the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released its final rules regarding autonomous vehicles. Their decision paved the way for companies to make and sell driverless vehicles that do not have steering wheels or pedals.

At a Glance:

  • It is now federally legal to produce and sell driverless vehicles without steering wheels or pedals.
  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued new rules stating that highly-automated vehicles do not need manual controls.
  • Self-driving vehicles still have to provide a high level of passenger safety.
  • The decision was driven by the auto industry.

Driverless Vehicles Without Pedals and Steering Wheels Are Coming

Until this week, all vehicles manufactured and sold in the United States had to have manual controls, no matter how automated they were. New federal regulations have cleared the way for automakers to make truly autonomous vehicles, according to CNBC. The NHTSA’s new rules state that self-driving vehicles don’t need manual controls like steering wheels and pedals.

However, there are still plenty of regulations for cars with Automated Driving Systems. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s report states that these cars have to be safe. More specifically, they “must continue to provide the same high levels of occupant protection as current passenger vehicles.” Additionally, automakers will have to adhere to both state and local laws when manufacturing and selling driverless vehicles without pedals and steering wheels.

This Decision Has Been a Long Time Coming

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been considering allowing driverless cars without steering wheels for about a year now. However, they made their decision one month after General Motors and Cruise approached the administration about a new model. They wanted federal permission to manufacture and deploy the Cruise Origin. This new model would feature an Automated Driving System and no manual controls. They’ll begin production of those vehicles in 2023, according to CNBC.

How Safe Will Driverless Vehicles Be Without Pedals, Steering Wheels?

There are currently about 30 companies that are allowed to test self-driving vehicles in the United States. However, GM, its self-driving subsidiary Cruise, and Waymo are believed to be leading the way in self-driving technology.

GM and Cruise unveiled the prototype of their driverless vehicle with no steering wheel or pedals in 2020. Kyle Vogt, co-founder and chief technology officer of Cruise told The Verge, “By the time this vehicle goes into production, we think the core software that drives our AVs will be at a superhuman level of performance and safer than the average human driver. And we’ll be providing hard empirical evidence to back up that claim before we put people in a car without someone in it.”

That’s a bold claim and a huge step forward for the auto industry.