Remarks by Advocate Pres. Cathy Chase on AV Safety

  • March 7, 2023
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

Remarks by Cathy Chase, President, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety for Virtual Capitol Hill Briefing: Autonomous Vehicles Safety

March 7, 2023

Thanks very much for joining us for today’s briefing on driverless cars, also known as autonomous vehicles or AVs.  I’m Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.  Created in 1989, we are a unique alliance of consumer, medical, public health, law enforcement, safety groups, and insurance companies and agents working together to make roads, road users and vehicles safer in the U.S.

Today you will hear from a panel of experts discussing the engineering and policy myths, mistakes, and facts about self-driving technologies which are being tested or operated on our streets and highways.  The auto and tech industries has invested billions of dollars in developing self-driving technologies.  Since 2017, they have aggressively promoted the urgent passage of legislation to accelerate the sale and deployment of AVs.  However, their legislative proposals, if enacted, could seriously jeopardize the safety of everyone.  In short, AVs are not ready for prime time and our panelists will share the supporting facts and reasons behind this position.  Additionally, we will talk about some actions needed to potentially realize the claims and promises of self-driving technology.

Advocates and others joining us today continue our work to make our roads safer.  In the past, when DOT has issued standards requiring every new vehicle to be equipped with lifesaving technologies, the benefits have been expedient – the price to consumers drops and so do deaths and injuries.  A perfect example is rearview cameras.  It’s almost hard to remember a time without that valuable safety technology.  Some of the latest technology will also reap major public health and economic benefits when required as standard equipment.  These include automatic emergency braking or AEB, lane departure warning, blind spot detection and impaired driving prevention systems.  These advances were included in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) with mandates for DOT action.  We have been conveying to DOT the urgency of completing all of these critical rulemakings, and we urge you to join us in that effort.

Despite industry claims, federal safety regulations are not an obstacle to the development of technology, including AVs.  In fact, in 2015, Congress passed a law excluding AVs that are being tested from having to comply with federal safety standards.  Additionally, if automakers want to sell an AV to the public that fails to meet federal safety standards, there is a well-established administrative procedure to seek exemptions from current federal safety standards.  In fact, GM and Ford have applied for exemptions.  However, right now, there are no federal minimum performance standards to guarantee AVs are working as expected and as needed, including cybersecurity.  In this void, some states have acted in a variety of ways.  One of our panelists will share with us what is currently happening in San Francisco where most of the testing and deployment has occurred.

In 2020, Advocates worked with other stakeholders to develop a comprehensive list of AV Tenets which are now supported by over 60 groups representing labor, disability rights, emergency responders, law enforcement, safety, environmental interests, bicyclists, pedestrians, and others.  The Tenets provide a roadmap for ensuring commonsense safeguards and regulations are in place so that AVs may realize their potential to benefit public health and safety.  They also call for critical safety and performance data to be collected and made publicly available.  Policy needs to be built on solid testing and reporting.  And, the public deserves full transparency.

Not only do our organizations have serious concerns about the development and deployment of self-driving technology, but so does the public.  Advocates commissioned a public opinion poll which we are releasing today.

Thank you all for your thoughtful questions. And again, I would like to thank our esteemed panel not only for their presence here today but for their work and commitment to keeping our roads and highways safe for all.