Statement of Jackie Gillan on DOT Release of Federal AV Policy

  • September 20, 2016
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: September 20, 2016

Contact: Allison Kennedy, 202-408-1711,


The U.S. DOT proactive approach to the safe deployment of automated vehicles is a welcomed development.

Yet, policy and legal gaps could result in consumers becoming “human crash test dummies” in the rush to market.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) is pleased to see the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) taking a proactive approach to safety by releasing guidelines for the development of autonomous vehicles (AVs).  The advent of driverless cars holds great promise to advance safety.  However, federal oversight, minimum performance requirements, rigorous testing as well as transparent and verified data are essential in the development process.

The guidance about future plans released today by the federal government must be considered a first step in the process of ensuring that AVs are safe for the public. While we welcome innovation and the life-saving potential of AVs, we are concerned about life-threatening dangers in a rush to market.  The improvements promised by AVs needs to be framed and encouraged by federal safety standards which DOT has the authority to issue today.  The DOT must ensure that the American public is not used to “beta test” these new technologies. Beta testing, to eliminate program flaws, can be used for computer simulations but not for real world situations impacting life and death.

This announcement should not be seen as an alternative to comprehensive safety standards, thorough oversight and strong enforcement. The promising benefits of AVs are great, but the potential problems are too serious and the public safety risks are too momentous to be left to industry alone. Recent incidents involving the recall of tens of millions of vehicles and needless deaths and injuries due to faulty General Motors’ ignition switches, dangerous Takata airbags and cheating emissions systems in Volkswagen vehicles highlight how the industry easily conceals problems from both the public and the government.  That must also change. Now is the time for Congress to give the DOT and its agencies additional legal authority and enforcement tools that other safety agencies already have.  These include imminent hazard authority to quickly pull dangerous vehicles off the roads, criminal penalties for corporate malfeasance, and pre-market approval of new technologies to ensure public safety.

Advocates strongly urges the DOT to establish and enforce functional safety standards, before consumers even open the car door to AVs.  This is the same approach the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) uses to review and approve new technologies in the aviation industry.  It has served the public well, has guaranteed safety and has not hampered the introduction and deployment of new safety technologies.

The DOT has the responsibility to ensure that motor vehicles do not pose an unreasonable safety risk to the public.  The potential safety benefits that AV systems may provide will only come once they are able to operate safely and without fail under all operating conditions and at all times.  During this transition between old and new, which may take many years, federal agency oversight and involvement are essential to ensuring that public safety doesn’t take a back seat to private enterprise.