NHTSA Issues Safety Guidelines for GM’s Super Cruise System

General Motors will be launching its Super Cruise system in 2017, but the vehicle will stop automatically if drivers are not attentive.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in a letter to GM that the semi-autonomous Super Cruise system will be permissible for the automaker to allow drivers to take their hands off the steering wheel for extended periods of time. The vehicle equipped with Super Cruise will activate hazard lights if a driver fails to respond to alerts, and then the vehicle will bring itself to a stop.

NHTSA raised concerns that the system will be safe. The federal agency said GM’s Super Cruise system will in some situations “alert the driver to resume steering.”

NHTSA said in the letter made public Monday that if the driver is incapacitated, unresponsive or otherwise unwilling to retake the controls, “Super Cruise may determine that the safest thing to do is bring the vehicle slowly to a stop … in or near the roadway.”

GM has been attempting to bring Super Cruise to the market since September 2014, when the automaker unveiled its plans for the semi-self-driving technology. GM had initially planned to unveil the technology on the Cadillac CT6 in late 2016, but in January said it would not unveil the semi-automated system until 2017.

The Detroit automaker hasn’t revealed the launch date or the GM vehicles that will include the Super Cruise system during 2017. The Cadillac media website shows a driver taking his hands off the steering wheel during a demonstration ride in an XT5 crossover.

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In a response to the NHTSA letter, GM spokesman Kevin Kelly said Monday that the automaker’s GM’s monitoring system has facial recognition software that can detect if a driver is falling asleep or not paying attention. If it happens, the system issues alerts including a red visual display telling the driver to take control. That’s followed by a seat vibration and then a recorded audio message.

If drivers ignore all these procedures, GM’s OnStar system will communicate with the driver.

NHTSA has taken a more cautious approach to self-driving systems since the May 7 death of Ohio technology company owner Joshua Brown in a Tesla Model S while the car’s semi-automated Autopilot system was engaged. NHTSA is still investigating that crash.

In September, Tesla updated its semi-autonomous driving system Autopilot with new limits on hands-off driving and other improvements. In October, the company announced that fully autonomous capable hardware will be installed in all new units of the Model S, Model X, and the upcoming Model 3.

Similar systems as GM’s Super Cruise due on the market in coming years include Traffic Jam Pilot from Volkswagen AG’s Audi unit in 2018.

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