FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, January 8, 2020
CONTACT: Pete Daniels / firstname.lastname@example.org / 202-408-1711 / 301-442-2249 (C)
Statement of Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, On U.S. DOT’s 4.0 Autonomous Vehicle (AV) Policy
Despite the Clear Need for Comprehensive Regulation, Weak, Voluntary Approach with no Certainty on How to Ensure Public Safety is Released
The latest attempt by the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) to update autonomous vehicle (AV) policy is a rehashed, regurgitated and poorly reconstituted version of voluntary guidelines, the same hands-off approach we have seen in previous years. AV 4.0 is a 4.NO.
The alarming number of crashes involving autonomous driving technology is well-known. In fact, multiple investigations are being undertaken by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) involving cars equipped with autonomous technology. These crashes and investigations have exposed serious flaws with experimental AV technology including the inability to properly identify and respond to the roadway environment, as demonstrated by the tragic 2018 fatal crash in Tempe, Arizona in which an AV failed to identify a pedestrian crossing the road. Despite these disturbing incidents, the agency tasked with ensuring public safety on our roadways has abrogated their responsibility to issue rules requiring minimum performance standards for AVs.
Without strong leadership and regulations from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), AV manufacturers can and will continue to introduce extremely complex, supercomputers-on-wheels onto public roads, in direct contact with vehicles, bicyclists, pedestrians and other road users, with meager government oversight. Voluntary guidelines are completely unenforceable, will not result in adequate performance standards and fall well-short of the safeguards that are necessary to protect the public.
Despite arguments made to the contrary, the U.S. is not falling behind other nations in developing AVs. This fallacy is being used to justify pushing for mass deregulation of this experimental technology so that the U.S. can supposedly keep pace with other nations. However, this claim is misleading as other countries are taking a more deliberate, careful and cautious approach. For example, Germany requires a human to be behind the wheel of a driverless car in order to take back control and has other important elements including requirements for vehicle data recording. In the United Kingdom, testing has largely been limited to a handful of cities, and the government has published a detailed code of practice for testing AVs but does not permit their sale.
Further, 4.0 continues the lack of regulation of autonomous commercial motor vehicles. Trucks weighing up to 80,000 lbs. being controlled and “driven” by computers next to families on highways, without federal oversight and safeguards, seems perilous at best and deadly at worst.
Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety has always been a steadfast champion of proven safety technologies, from airbags to automatic emergency braking. While we are optimistic that in the future AVs may bring about meaningful and lasting reductions in motor vehicle crashes, that potential remains far from a near-term reality. Rushing the deployment of unproven technology without appropriate oversight and accountability endangers the public. It also undermines the public’s trust in the still developing technology at a time when lack of public confidence is already an issue.
We call on Congress and the U.S. DOT to advance robust regulations that prioritize public safety over AV manufacturers’ profit. Today’s announcement seriously fails to meet that mark.