Because it wants to be "more innovation-friendly."
According to Automotive News, the US Department of Transportation has taken additional steps towards what many will deem as radical: future cars without steering wheels and brake pedals that will be legal on public roads. The Transportation Department, headed by Secretary Elaine Chao, wants to become "more innovation-friendly" and has therefore decided to move ahead with driverless cars in general. Late last week, the government office requested "for comment on a petition from General Motors that seeks an exemption from Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards."
More specifically, it's the section of those standards that require a human driver and traditional controls. Those controls include items such as steering wheels and brake pedals. Neither of which will be necessary for self-driving cars.
GM and its Cruise subsidiary actually requested this exemption last January but it wasn't the first time it did so. For the past 15 months, GM and other companies currently developing autonomous systems have been waiting for a government response. Self-driving technology has proceeded about as far as it can go internally, such as in labs and private test tracks, and now GM and others want to begin the next step, which is testing on public roads. The public, which includes non-profit road safety organizations, now have 60 days to comment on GM's request before the Transportation Department begins its own response.
"The department is actively seeking public comment on proposed exemptions to federal standards and how the public can be protected as new transportation technologies emerge," Chao said at the SXSW arts and technology festival in Austin, Texas. "The department will remain technology neutral, but be a lot more innovation-friendly and will help safe and better transportation options become available more quickly," she added.
Private companies also seeking and requested this exemption include the likes of Nuro, an upstart that previously announced it received $940 million in funding, which hopes to offer delivery services that do not require a human driver. It has already been testing prototypes in Arizona and Texas. Not surprisingly, GM welcomed the Transportation Department's announcement and is "looking forward to continue to work with NHTSA and other stakeholders as we move through the petition process." Skynet is beginning to take over our cars and the government is fine with that – as long as safety is guaranteed.