Advocates’ Statement on Thanksgiving Travel and Self-Driving Safety Concerns

  • November 21, 2017
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

November 21, 2017

Contact: Eric Naing, 202-408-1711, cell: 217-493-8294, enaing@saferoads.org

 

Treacherous Thanksgiving Travel: 

Motorists Need to Obey Highway Safety Laws, and

Lawmakers Need to Take Action on the Unfinished Safety Agenda and Put Safeguards in Place before Driverless Cars are Sold to the Public

 

Statement of Jackie Gillan and Cathy Chase,

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

 

Jackie Gillan, President, Advocates: Thanksgiving is one of the most wonderful times of the year; unfortunately, it is also one of the most dangerous and deadly times to travel. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) warns motorists about the increased risk of dangerous behaviors like speeding, distraction, and impairment which can lead to fatal crashes and life altering injuries. Just last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released fatality figures for 2016 that show deaths are up for the second year in a row. Over 37,000 people were killed on our roads and highways, and increases were seen in nearly every major crash category. More can and must be done to curb these preventable crashes.

States across the country still have glaring gaps in their highway safety statutes. Laws requiring all vehicle occupants to buckle up, all motorcyclists to wear helmets, all children to be seated in proper restraints, all young drivers to gain driving experience under safe conditions, and countermeasures against impairment and distraction languish in state capitols nationwide. Also, speed continues to contribute to crashes at a disturbingly high rate. We call on state lawmakers to take action on this unfinished safety agenda and enact comprehensive highway safety laws.

Safety technologies also hold great promise for reducing the death and injury toll. Commonsense systems such as rear seat belt reminders, automatic emergency braking (AEB) for cars and trucks, and speed limiting devices for commercial motor vehicles could be saving lives now. However, there are no minimum government requirements for these devices to be standard equipment in vehicles.

While progress on these lifesaving technologies is stagnant, Congress is speeding through legislation that will open the floodgates for driverless cars to be sold to the public without adequate government oversight and auto industry accountability. In fact, legislation pending in Congress proposes to allow automakers to sell to the public hundreds of thousands of vehicles exempt from federal safety standards. This could threaten the safety of road users by potentially replacing human errors by drivers with human errors by computer programmers.

The Senate bill, the AV START Act (S. 1885), which is expected to be taken up as soon as Congress returns from Thanksgiving break, is in serious need of improvements to ensure safety. S. 1885 would allow companies making autonomous vehicles (AVs) to seek exemptions from

critical federal safety standards for tens of thousands of vehicles every year without a transparent process in place to ensure proper oversight. The size and scope of these exemptions must be reduced and any exemptions to occupant protection standards should be prohibited. Although in the future motorists may not need a steering wheel, they will still need an airbag for protection in a crash.

Further, legislation addressing driverless cars must include reasonable safety standards for essential issues such as cybersecurity, vehicle electronics, and driver engagement. Without adequate standards for these crucial elements, there is a real risk for widespread failures and catastrophic consequences. Additionally, SAE Level 2 AVs, like the Tesla involved in the 2016 fatal crash, must be covered by the legislation. Level 2 vehicles will likely comprise a significant portion of the passenger AV fleet in the coming years and they must be subject to basic safeguards.

Cathy Chase, Vice President of Governmental Affairs, Advocates: As more AVs are offered for sale, consumers will need information about these vehicles at the point of sale, in the owner’s manual, and through a publicly-accessible database. We urge the Senate to require the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to establish such a database containing basic, but essential, information on all AVs, similar to www.safecar.gov, which allows the public to access information about safety recalls. A public AV database will give consumers relevant information on a vehicle’s level of automation, exemptions from safety standards, and the operational design domain, including its limitations and capabilities.

Safety and consumer groups strongly recommend that Congress increase the resources and funding allocated to NHTSA, the federal agency charged with protecting motorists. Currently, the agency is too under-funded and under-staffed to be an effective “cop on the beat” and ensure public safety; especially considering the growing and increasingly-complex duties and challenges presented with the deployment of AVs.

Multiple recent polls have found that the public is highly skeptical of AVs. A Pew Research Center survey released on October 4 found that 56 percent of U.S. adults polled said they would not ride in a driverless vehicle. Many respondents cited a lack of trust in the technology and safety concerns as reasons to avoid driverless cars. Worried consumers need to be assured that AVs will be safe and reliable, and improving the AV legislation and enhancing NHTSA’s resources will help achieve that goal.

Advocates welcomes the development of new technologies that have the potential to prevent motor vehicle crashes and save lives. Regrettably, the AV START Act lacks necessary safeguards and oversight to protect the occupants of self-driving vehicles and all those sharing the roads with them. The commonsense changes to the bill supported by consumer, public health, law enforcement, and safety organizations will not hinder, impede, delay, or discourage the development and deployment of autonomous technology. Rather, they will bolster consumers’ trust in these vehicles by helping to ensure industry accountability and public safety.

We cannot let our roads become proving grounds for AVs, and we must do more to make our roads safer between now and when AVs are ubiquitous. We urge lawmakers to advance safety solutions that we know will prevent crashes and save lives now such as comprehensive state traffic safety laws and strong federal vehicle safety standards. And, we urge Congress to improve the AV legislation to ensure the safe deployment of AVs in the future.

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