Statement on National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s AV TEST Initiative

  • June 15, 2020
150 150 Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety
CONTACT: Pete Daniels / / 301-442-2249 (C)

Statement of Cathy Chase, President of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), On National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) AV TEST Initiative


Agency rolls out another inadequate, voluntary program on driverless cars despite clear need for mandatory safeguards, and hosts industry-heavy webinar series lacking representation from key stakeholders


National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Deputy Administrator James Owens says he wants to make sure that safety is “baked” into the product design and testing of new self-driving technologies.  Unfortunately, NHTSA’s reliance on voluntary industry actions to accomplish this is a recipe for disaster.  The definition of insanity is repeating the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.  Instead of the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) continuing to issue voluntary, unenforceable agreements to the peril of all road users, it should fulfill its responsibility to make our roads safe and develop minimum performance standards.  These baselines will protect the billions of dollars AV developers have invested, help foster public confidence and inspire innovation to exceed them.  There is strong public support for federal rules, but to date NHTSA has chosen to ignore this sentiment.

The Agency’s mission is to save lives, prevent injuries and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes through education, research, safety standards and enforcement activity.  Yet with today’s announcement of the Automated Vehicles Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing Initiative (AV TEST), the Agency is continuing a dangerous hands-off approach to hands-free driving that has thus far failed to adequately respond to foreseeable safety risks associated with autonomous technology in cars.  Congress rejected voluntary programs over 50 years ago when it passed the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act (Pub. L. 89-563) in 1966, on the basis that such standards had largely failed to protect the public.

Today it has been reported that at least 80 companies are testing autonomous vehicles (AVs).  Yet, only 20 have submitted safety assessments to the U.S. DOT under the current voluntary guidelines, iterations of which have been in place for nearly four years.  Many of those submissions are more akin to glossy marketing brochures than substantive reports on the performance of their product.  Additionally, over that time, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has investigated six crashes involving vehicles with autonomous capabilities, uncovering serious problems, including inadequate countermeasures to ensure driver engagement, reliance on voluntary reporting, lack of standards, poor corporate safety culture, and a misguided oversight approach by NHTSA.

An open discussion featuring a wide range of opinions on how to safely test driverless cars and share information with the public is needed.  Unfortunately, AV TEST includes three days of taxpayer-funded panels devoid of key speakers who should help inform the federal government’s approach.  It is unconscionable that the NHTSA has chosen to spend its limited resources on this effort, as opposed to addressing the substantial backlog of safety rulemakings enacted into law with bipartisan support which could be saving lives today.  Meanwhile, the industry itself has largely reined in its early expectations on fully autonomous vehicles, recognizing that much more work needs to be done in order to ensure that AVs are capable of safely navigating our complex and constantly changing roadway environment.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates) is committed to working with a large group of stakeholders to ensure that self-driving cars are deployed in a way that prioritizes safety,  accessibility, sustainability, and equity.  We will be monitoring NHTSA’s AV TEST panels and offering additional responses at @SafeRoadsNow.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, medical, public health, law enforcement and safety groups and insurance companies and agents working together to make America’s roads safer.  Advocates’ mission is the adoption of federal and state laws, policies and programs that prevent motor vehicle crashes, save lives, reduce injuries, and contain costs.