Statement On Latest Expert Crash Investigation Reports Calling for Meaningful Regulation of Partially Autonomous Cars

  • March 20, 2020
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
CONTACT: Pete Daniels / / 301-442-2249 (C)


Statement of Cathy Chase, President, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety

On Latest Expert Crash Investigation Reports Calling for Meaningful Regulation of Partially Autonomous Cars


Congress and the U.S. Department of Transportation Must Act on Repeated Warnings by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)


Two new reports on fatal crashes involving Tesla vehicles operating on “Autopilot,” issued yesterday by the NTSB, confirm the urgent need to require minimum performance standards for cars with partially autonomous driving systems.  The independent crash investigation agency reiterated findings of previous reports indicating that partially autonomous systems, like those in Tesla vehicles, endanger public safety for several reasons:

  • Drivers can use partially autonomous systems outside the operating conditions under which they were designed to operate safely.
  • Technology intended to monitor and keep drivers engaged does not do an adequate job of keeping them focused on the driving task.
  • Current partially autonomous systems are not sophisticated enough to operate safely without significant driver involvement.

At its February 25, 2020 public board meeting, the NTSB noted the approach of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) “to the oversight of automated vehicles is misguided, because it essentially relies on waiting for problems to occur rather than addressing safety issues proactively.”  The announcement by NHTSA this week facilitating the deployment of driverless technologies offers further evidence of the Agency prioritizing swift sale of AVs over safety and security.  This is an unacceptable abrogation of duty that imperils all road users.

The NTSB final reports on fatal Tesla crashes in Mountain View, California and Delray Beach, Florida come about one week after an Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) study found that partially automated systems need robust driver engagement monitoring, effective driver alerts, and built-in limits on misuse.  All three recommendations align with NTSB findings and must be addressed through a regulatory process in which all manufacturers adhere to the same minimum performance standards to improve safety and ensure systems are safely operating as expected by consumers.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) has consistently urged Congress to take action to overcome the known and foreseeable issues with partially automated systems, including those outlined in the NTSB and IIHS reports.  In testimony before Congress earlier this year, Advocates noted the need for a driver engagement standard to address the growing problem of “automation complacency” which refers to the tendency of humans to lose focus when a vehicle’s automated systems take over some of the driving task.  Advocates is also calling for a standard to restrict the use of automated features to scenarios in which they can be used safely, known as the operational design domain (ODD).

Commonsense safeguards to overcome dangers posed by partially autonomous vehicles that are already on our roadways must be part of our Nation’s first legislation on autonomous vehicles (AVs).  As the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has only issued non-binding voluntary guidelines regarding AVs, Advocates urges Congress to require DOT to issue minimum safety performance standards, conduct thorough oversight, and require industry accountability to ensure the safety, accessibility and public acceptance of developing autonomous driving technology.