April 20, 2018
Mr. Mitch Bainwol
President & Chief Executive Officer
Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers
803 7th Street, N.W., Suite 300
Washington, D.C. 20001
Dear Mr. Bainwol:
I am writing in response to a misleading claim made by a representative of the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers during the Politico Live event, “Safety in the Driverless Age,” last night. The statement, which was also quoted in this morning’s Politico Morning Transportation (MT), was that had Uber been required to submit a Safety Evaluation Report (SER) as mandated in the current draft of the AV START Act (S. 1885), the public would know “a lot more” about why the company’s vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian while operating in autonomous mode in Tempe, Arizona last month.
Advocates firmly believes that automated vehicle (AV) technology has the potential to make significant and lasting reductions in the death and injury toll on our Nation’s roads. However, the development and deployment of AVs must be open and transparent or safety will suffer and public confidence will wane even further. While the AV START Act requires manufacturers of AVs and AV technology to submit to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) a SER, this provision only directs manufacturers to “describe” their AV systems. As such, manufacturers will continue to submit slick marketing brochures, such as those recently released by two manufacturers to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), instead of providing actual data and documentation that will allow the public and NHTSA to accurately evaluate the safety of the technology.
Additionally, data sharing among manufacturers is essential to improve overall safety among AVs. Data and information about known flaws or problems encountered during development and while in use must be shared among manufacturers as well as with NHTSA and the public to ensure that all AV systems are learning about problems in real time and can benefit from the experience of other AV systems. Yet, the AV START Act does not require that the critical safety data generated by AVs will be shared or even provided to NHTSA or that manufacturers report all crashes involving AVs to the agency.
The AV START Act is also lacking a minimum requirement for a “vision test” to ensure that AVs properly interact with their surrounding environment. They must not only detect other vehicles and roadway infrastructure but also other participants using our Nation’s transportation systems such as pedestrians, bicyclists, construction workers in work zones, first responders providing assistance after crashes, and law enforcement officers directing traffic. A failure to properly detect and react to any of these could have tragic results, as sadly evidenced by the recent fatal Uber crash. AVs and automated driving systems must be subject to objective testing to ensure that they properly detect other road users, as well as pavement markings and infrastructure, can correctly identify the type of object that has been detected, and can then also respond properly and safely. This proposal is widely supported by safety, consumer, law enforcement, medical and bicycling groups, and should be included in the AV START Act. A weak, incomplete and vague reporting requirement will not prevent future tragic incidents.
Consumer acceptance of AV technology is critical to its success and to fully realizing the lifesaving potential of AVs. Yet, according to a CARAVAN public opinion poll recently commissioned by Advocates, two-thirds of respondents (64 percent) expressed concern about sharing the roads with driverless cars. Polls conducted by entities such as the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Pew Research Center and Kelley Blue Book have garnered similar results. Unless the provisions in the AV START Act related to the SER and sharing of data are strengthened, the public confidence in AVs will remain low.
Lastly, I wanted to respond to the inaccurate characterization of the bill as allowing for future “testing” of AVs. The process created in the AV START Act will allow for the sale of hundreds of thousands of AVs, many of which could be exempt from existing federal motor vehicle safety standards (FMVSS). In fact, longstanding federal law was recently amended in the FAST Act to allow for an unlimited number of vehicles that are not in compliance with the FMVSS to be tested on public roads, despite opposition from consumer, public health and safety organizations. This was a massive increase from the previous limit of 2,500 vehicles for most manufacturers (49 U.S.C. § 30113).
We share your optimism that AVs have the potential at some point in the future to improve public safety. However, recent incidents show that the above-mentioned and other safety improvements are needed in the AV START Act. We welcome you to work with us to pass AV legislation that will protect public safety and encourage the development and deployment of reliable and responsible technologies. And on the path to AVs, we urge the members of the Alliance to immediately increase their efforts to install crash avoidance technologies, such as automatic emergency braking (AEB), which have been shown to already have significant safety benefits in every make and model as standard equipment.
Catherine Chase, President
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety