The International Brotherhood of Teamsters, a union representing workers in various sectors, is pushing the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to reject a request by General Motors (GM) to grant an exemption to its subsidiary, Cruise, allowing the production of its autonomous vehicle, the Origin, without adhering to traditional vehicle safety standards. The Cruise Origin is specifically designed for autonomy, with no steering wheel or pedals.
The Teamsters union is urging the NHTSA to deny General Motors’ request for an exemption that would allow its subsidiary, Cruise, to produce the autonomous vehicle, the Origin, without meeting traditional vehicle safety standards. Concerns have been raised regarding the safety record of Cruise and recent incidents involving their vehicles. The decision of the NHTSA could impact the future regulation of autonomous vehicles in the United States.
Concerns over Safety
The Teamsters’ opposition to Cruise and autonomous vehicles, in general, is not surprising considering their recent criticism of California governor Gavin Newsom for vetoing a bill that aimed to prohibit driverless autonomous trucks on public roads. President of the union, Sean O’Brien, expressed deep concerns over recent incidents in San Francisco involving Cruise vehicles and argued that granting an exemption to Cruise to expand their fleet would be catastrophic for everyone’s safety.
According to O’Brien, “It is dangerous for other motorists, for pedestrians, and for middle-class jobs for Cruise to make a request like this from NHTSA.” The NHTSA has not yet responded with a decision on GM’s petition.
The petition, filed by GM in February 2021, requests exemptions from six federal motor vehicle safety standards for the Cruise Origin. These standards include requirements for parts that are mandatory in vehicles manufactured and sold in the U.S. For example, vehicles must have windshield wiping and washing systems for clear visibility and transmission shifters that follow specific sequences for parking, reverse, and drive. As the Origin is designed without a human driver in mind, it lacks physical transmission shifters and certain other components.
A public comment period regarding the exemptions concluded in August 2022, with Cruise stating that the majority of the public comments filed were supportive of their petition. However, the union and other critics argue that the safety record of Cruise, including recent incidents and failures to address certain operational components of the Origin, raises significant concerns about the company’s ability to operate at the level of safety standards required by federal law and regulation.
Impact on Autonomous Vehicle Regulation
The NHTSA is expected to announce new rule-making this fall regarding the deployment of noncompliant autonomous vehicles. This could potentially pave the way for federal regulation around self-driving vehicles. Despite the push for autonomous vehicles, the recent incidents involving Cruise’s robotaxis, including collisions and malfunctions, have intensified scrutiny and raised questions about the safety measures implemented by the company.