GM petitions US government to approve a 2019 launch for its first driverless car without controls

General Motors (GM) has asked the US government to approve a driverless car that does not feature a brake pedal, an accelerator pedal or even a steering wheel for use in its upcoming ride-sharing fleet that it wants to launch in 2019.

For passengers who cannot open doors, the Cruise AV - a rebranded version of GM’s Chevrolet Bolt EV - has even been designed to perform that task. It will have other accommodations for hearing and visually impaired customers.

GM believes the vehicle will actually prove to be safer than those driven by humans.

“Imagine a world with no car crashes,” the company said in a statement. “Our self-driving vehicles aim to eliminate human driver error — the primary cause of 94 per cent of crashes — leading to fewer injuries and fatalities.”

It was also keen to point out that its driverless vehicles should prove to be more environmentally friendly than traditional cars.

“Our self-driving vehicles will all be electric, contributing to a better environment,” GM said.

This will be one of the first self-driving vehicles in commercial passenger service and among the first to do away with manual controls for steering, brakes and throttle. Doing away with the driver’s seat in the Cruise AV will also allow an extra passenger to fit into the vehicle, maximising its capacity.

Company President Dan Ammann told reporters GM had filed on Thursday for government approval to deploy the “first production-ready vehicle designed from the start without a steering wheel, pedals or other unnecessary manual controls.”

GM is part of a growing throng of vehicle manufacturers, technology companies and tech startups seeking to develop so-called robo-taxis over the next three years in North America, Europe and Asia. Most of those companies have one or more partners.

Earlier this week Ford said it plans to partner with delivery service Postmates as the automaker starts testing ways to transport people, food and packages this spring in its self-driving cars, which are being developed by Ford’s Argo unit.

Other companies - from Uber to Alphabet's Waymo - have been testing self-driving vehicle prototypes in limited ride sharing applications, but have been less explicit than GM in announcing plans for commercial robo-taxi services.

GM executives said the automaker has asked the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to allow 16 alterations to existing vehicle safety rules - such as having an airbag in what would normally be the driver’s seat, but without a steering wheel - to enable the deployment of the Cruise AV.

The automaker would then need to obtain similar approval from individual US states. GM executives said seven US states already allow the alterations sought by the automaker. In other states - including those that stipulate a car must have a licensed human driver - GM will work with regulators to change or get a waiver from existing rules.

The company declined to identify the first states in which it plans to launch the vehicle or say when it would begin testing.

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