Press Call and Materials on Senate AV Bill (S. 1885)

  • October 2, 2017
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety


Contacts: Bill Bronrott, 202-270-4415,, Eric Naing, 217-493-8294,


Download a summary of the AV START Act with Advocates’ positions

Download a list of the worst of the worst AV START Act provisions

Download Advocates’ letter to the Senate Commerce Committee on autonomous commercial motor vehicles

Download a list of speakers’ statements

Senate Autonomous Vehicles Legislation Urgently Needs Safety Upgrades

Tomorrow is an Opportunity for the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation to turn the AV START Act into an AV SAFETY Act

Today, U.S. Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Edward J. Markey (D-MA) joined a coalition of leading safety and consumer advocates, and survivors and families of victims of dangerous and deadly vehicle defects to call for commonsense safety improvements to the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act (AV START Act, S. 1885). Without changes, the AV START Act would allow hundreds of thousands of self-driving cars to get exemptions from critical federal motor vehicle safety standards and would keep consumers in the dark about the limitations and performance of autonomous vehicles (AVs).

AVs may achieve meaningful and lasting reductions to the motor vehicle death and injury toll in the future, but the Senate bill would turn our public roads and highways into proving grounds for this new technology along the way. Important public protections, federal agency oversight, and adequate industry accountability are desperately needed. The Senate bill puts too much trust in the automakers and too little importance in protecting public safety.

Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, stated, “Until autonomous vehicles are proven to be safer than human drivers, manufacturers must be required to include commonsense safety stopgaps and essential transparency measures. As the Senate Commerce Committee considers autonomous vehicle legislation, I urge my colleagues to support amendments I have filed to hold manufacturers accountable for the safety of autonomous vehicles and everyone with whom they share the road.”

“While autonomous vehicles hold the promise of revolutionizing the way we travel, it is our job to animate these transportation technologies with our core American values – safety, security, and privacy,” said Senator Edward J. Markey (D-MA), a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. “As the Senate considers legislation governing autonomous vehicles, we must seize this opportunity to establish true rules of the road that protect the public from automotive defects, cyberattacks, and abusive invasions of their privacy.”

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Jackie Gillan stated, “The AV START Act takes a dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving. It lacks adequate government oversight and industry accountability.  There are warning signs already that this bill puts too much trust in the hands of automakers and places too little importance on consumer safety protections.  Just three weeks ago, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) held a hearing on the fatal 2016 Tesla Autopilot crash and exposed very real risks of deploying technology that hasn’t been adequately tested or reviewed by the federal government or understood by the purchaser. We urge the Senate Commerce Committee to make safe and sensible improvements to the bill.”

Laura Christian, birth mother of Amber Marie Rose, who was killed in a crash when the airbag of her Chevrolet Cobalt failed to deploy due to a faulty GM ignition switch, said, “Instead of celebrating my daughter Amber’s 29th birthday today, I am urging the Senate Commerce Committee to learn from the actions that caused her death.  Amber was killed by a single defect. The ignition switch shut off while the car was still running, thereby preventing the airbag from being deployed.  Pretty simple in concept.  If we cannot trust automakers to do the right thing with a single safety defect, how are we expected to trust them to do the right thing with extremely complex, interdependent systems and software necessary for autonomous driving?”

Angelina Sujata, who sustained serious injuries when the Takata airbag in her 2001 Honda Civic exploded in her face, knows first-hand what happens when the government is asleep at the wheel and companies put profit before safety and cover up defects. “As a victim of a defective Takata airbag, I oppose the AV START Act, as currently written. We are still trying to get these dangerous airbags off the roads, so we shouldn’t be too quick to forget the ramifications that lack of government oversight can have on auto safety,” she stated. “Takata showed us how tragic and widespread the consequences can be from a single safety defect. In the case of Takata, this defect was hidden by the industry and took years to uncover. Yet, now the industry wants us to ‘trust them’ as they deploy vast numbers of driverless cars that are incredibly complex without an evaluation of safety.”

“The so-called ‘AV START Act’ would be better named the ‘START Over’ Act. It puts auto and tech companies in the driver’s seat in the development and deployment of untested autonomous vehicles,” said Joan Claybrook, former Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). “It puts the federal auto safety agency in the back seat in terms of ensuring industry accountability. And, it leaves consumers stranded on the side of the road without essential protections or basic information.”

Dr. Stephen Hargarten, an emergency physician, professor and Chair of Emergency Medicine at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said, “As an emergency physician who has spent my entire career treating motor vehicle crash victims, I enthusiastically welcome new technologies to save lives in the emergency room and in our vehicles. However, I am deeply concerned about the Senate bill. It allows manufacturers to sell unproven technology to the public, which will then be operating on public streets and roads to the potential peril of all road users.”

Sally Greenberg, Executive Director of the National Consumers League, stated, “The vacuum of regulatory oversight by either the Department of Transportation (DOT) and NHTSA envisioned in this legislation, in combination with the bill’s preemption of the states’ role in overseeing the safety of their citizens, is a recipe for disaster, and, we believe, will put the safety of vehicle occupants in jeopardy. Let us be clear, driver error alone is not the only cause of injury and death. The automotive industry has a long history of introducing dangerously designed vehicles into the marketplace.”

“Autonomous vehicles have the potential to be a technological vaccine which could nearly eliminate auto related death and injury; however, their complexity and potential to go tragically awry demands a rigorous regulatory roadmap, not a free ticket on the nation’s roads,” said Jack Gillis, Director of Public Affairs for the Consumer Federation of America. “More than any other recent product introduction, AVs need significant oversight and standards established prior to widespread introduction. Congress needs to heed the well-known highway safety sign: ‘Slow Down and Save Lives’.”

Jason Levine, Executive Director of the Center for Auto Safety, stated, “Americans are right to be concerned about the lack of governmental oversight and an absence of corporate caution in the rush to be first to get self-driving cars on the road. Industry is promising that never before seen levels of safety will become standard on self-driving cars if we just remove all the existing regulatory roadblocks. Auto history shows what happens when speed is put ahead of safety.”

“Federal law shouldn’t leave consumers as guinea pigs,” said William Wallace, policy analyst for Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports. “We were hopeful that this bill would include much stronger measures, but it’s not too late. Senators should step up and turn the AV START Act into a strong bill that puts safety first, regardless of whether a human or software is doing the driving.”