GM expands its hands-free Super Cruise system to 400,000 miles, including Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway

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That green light means you can take your hands off the handlebars. Just keep your eyes on the road!

Mack Hogan | TBEN

DETROIT – General Motors is expanding its Super Cruise hands-free driving system in the US and Canada later this year, introducing the feature to non-interstate roads and highways such as Route 66 and the Pacific Coast Highway.

With the additional roads, the driver assistance system will be usable on more than 400,000 miles of U.S. and Canadian roads, an increase of approximately 200,000 miles from strictly divided highways.

“These are the major roads that connect the smaller cities and townships in the US and Canada,” said David Craig, GM’s mapping specialist, at a media briefing. “This is expanding Super Cruise available to many, many millions more customers.”

Super Cruise uses a system of sensors and cameras to control the car’s steering, braking and acceleration functions without driver intervention. It also uses high-definition maps; a light bar to communicate with the driver; and an in-vehicle surveillance system to ensure drivers remain vigilant while Super Cruise is in operation.

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The feature, even with the update, will not make turns on behalf of the driver or operate in cities, towns and residential streets like some of Tesla’s driver assistance systems. Super Cruise will also return vehicle control to drivers as they approach an intersection with a stop sign or traffic light.

Despite names like Super Cruise, or Tesla’s Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” brands, these vehicles are not autonomous or safe to use without a driver behind the wheel.

GM said the latest roads for Super Cruise will be available via over-the-air, or remote, updates, starting in the fourth quarter of this year for most of its eligible vehicles. GM will not charge for the update, but the optional add-on currently starts at $2,200 or $2,500, depending on the vehicle.

GM has been slowly increasing the availability and capabilities of Super Cruise since its launch in 2017. It plans to offer Super Cruise on 23 models worldwide by the end of next year. It has also announced a new system called “Ultra Cruise,” which GM has said will be able to drive in 95% of the scenarios.

GM’s premium tier allows the company to compete more directly with Elon Musk-led electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla. Tesla driver assistance systems include the standard Autopilot and premium option marketed as Full Self-Driving (or FSD), as well as FSD Beta that allows drivers to test features on public roads before general use.

Driver assistance systems have seen an increase in regulatory attention, particularly around accidents involving Tesla vehicles.

Mario Maiorana, GM’s chief engineer at Super Cruise, said the company is in routine communications with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration about the rollout of the additional roads.

“We’re not going to release it until we’ve fully tested it,” Maiorana said, a small jab to Tesla, which has offered developing “beta” systems to some owners.

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GM’s Super Cruise has not received as much attention or scrutiny as Tesla’s systems, in part because of additional safety measures and the company’s more conservative approach. GM has also only sold about 40,000 vehicles with Super Cruise, while Tesla offers some form of its systems on every vehicle it offers.

NHTSA reported in early July that it had opened more than 30 probes to collisions with Tesla vehicles since 2016 where driver assistance systems such as Autopilot were a suspect factor. The same report noted that the federal vehicle watchdog was investigating two nonfatal incidents that may have involved Super Cruise.

Tesla crashes currently under investigation have resulted in 16 occupant or pedestrian fatalities, according to the agency.

Automakers are required by law to report fatal and other serious collisions involving driver assistance systems to the NHTSA.

– CNBCs Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.