General Motors’ Cruise gets permit to test autonomous vehicles without safety drivers in San Francisco

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General Motors’ Cruise unit will be allowed to test autonomous vehicles on public roads in San Francisco without a safety driver, joining Inc.-backed Zoox Inc. and a handful of other self-driving startups.

Cruise is permitted to operate five vehicles without a driver behind the wheel, a step up from approval it received five years ago that required the presence of a person to take control if needed, the California Department of Motor Vehicles said Thursday in a statement.

While some 60 companies have permission to conduct autonomous testing with a safety driver in California, Cruise becomes only the fifth allowed to test a truly driverless mode in the state. Others in that small group include Alphabet Inc. unit Waymo LLC, Nuro Inc., AutoX Technologies and Zoox — which received its permit last month.

Cruise will be allowed to conduct both daytime and nighttime tests on certain public roads with speed limits no greater than 30 mph and only in fair-weather conditions. The company said it plans to start testing by the end of the year.

“We’re not the first company to receive this permit, but we’re going to be the first to put it to use on the streets of a major U.S. city,” Dan Ammann, Cruise’s CEO, said in a blog post Thursday.

Cruise uses a custom fleet of battery-electric vehicles based on the Chevy Bolt that have been adapted with a suite of sensors. Earlier this year, Cruise unveiled an autonomous shuttle it hopes to one day to use ferrying the public around cities.

Waymo announced last week it will begin fully driverless rides for a select group of customers in Phoenix, Arizona.

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Saurabh Shukla

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