Statement On the Misguided and Mistaken Action of the U.S. Department of Transportation on Autonomous Vehicles

  • March 18, 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,
On the Misguided and Mistaken Action of the U.S. Department of Transportation on Autonomous Vehicles


At a time when experts including the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) are continuing to identify serious safety shortcomings with driverless car systems, it is stunning that the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) is focused on aggressively furthering its hands-off approach to hands-free driving.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the federal agency charged with protecting public safety on our Nation’s roads, is moving forward with a dangerous proposal to facilitate the deployment of driverless technologies while failing to first determine if these vehicles can safely operate on our Nation’s roads.  The misplaced priority of enabling compliance with safety regulations to fast track the sale of autonomous vehicles (AVs) is throwing caution to the wind to the potential peril of all road users.

In a press statement issued yesterday, NHTSA justifies its actions by citing human error in crashes as a reason to rush the deployment of AVs.  Yet the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) contradicts that unverified premise by stating that the safety potential of automated driving systems is “unsubstantiated and the impacts unknown.”  In fact, even with limited public data, there are known impacts showing consequential problems with automated capabilities.  Since 2016, at least ten crashes of vehicles with varying levels of autonomy have occurred.  In many cases, NTSB investigations have shown that an attentive, sober, alert driver should have been able to avoid the collision, but the automated systems failed to do so.  These crashes already have exposed serious flaws with still-experimental AV technology.  The failure in 2018 of an Uber self-driving car in Tempe, AZ to properly identify a pedestrian crossing the road and correctly respond resulted in her death.

During a February 25, 2020 NTSB meeting on the 2018 crash, the independent investigatory agency called for swift action to prevent future crashes involving partially autonomous vehicles.  The NTSB called NHTSA’s approach to AVs “misguided, because it essentially relies on waiting for problems to occur rather than addressing safety issues proactively.”  Board members urged NHTSA to adopt NTSB’s recommendations including those dating back to 2017 that would require a minimum performance standard for partially autonomous vehicles.

NHTSA’s announcement is an abrogation of the Agency’s statutory responsibility to keep our roads safe.  By ‘turning over the keys’ to an industry replete with recent cover-ups and deadly mistakes that have unnecessarily cost lives, they are threatening not only public safety but also public confidence in this new technology going forward.  Numerous public opinion polls, including one recently commissioned by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety (Advocates), have consistently demonstrated strong skepticism and skittishness toward AVs.

Advocates has always been a steadfast champion of proven safety technologies, from airbags to rearview cameras to automatic emergency braking (AEB).  While AV technology, which must be subject to minimum performance standards, may bring about meaningful and lasting reductions in motor vehicle crashes, that potential is not a near-term reality.  Road users – including pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users, and others – should not be forced to serve as ‘crash test dummies’ as companies race to be the first to roll out unproven vehicles onto our roadways.

MORE: Read Advocates’ comments on NHTSA’s May 2019 request for comments on autonomous vehicle regulation and Advocates’ comments on NHTSA’s decision to grant exemptions to Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) to Nuro.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety is an alliance of consumer, medical, public health, 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.