— In another sign that driverless car technology needs oversight and safeguards that it's not getting, a diverse group of 70 consumer advocates have joined together to ask Congress to do its job.
The groups and individuals have serious concerns about the prospect of attaching the AV START Act to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act. The AV START Act contains proposed federal driverless car regulations created by the Senate, except it's light on safety regulations and heavy on self-regulation.
The advocates who signed the letter to Congress include law enforcement and first responder groups, bicycle organizations, public health advocates and former employees of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
The Center for Auto Safety, Consumer Watchdog, former NHTSA Administrator Joan Claybrook and former Deputy and Acting NHTSA Administrator David Friedman are among those who believe the government is lost when it comes to autonomous vehicles.
Opposing the consumer advocates are about 100 companies that support attaching the bill to the FAA Reauthorization Act, companies that could benefit from an industry without strict federal oversight and regulations.
By considering to attach driverless car regulations on the back of federal aviation regulations is a good definition for the word "absurd," a fact not lost on the safety advocates who signed the letter and who said the idea would be "ironic at best and lethal at worst."
NHTSA has taken a hands-off approach to the dangers of using public roads as test laboratories for unproven autonomous technology that could one day revolutionize the way we drive. But in its drive to lower crash fatalities, NHTSA has handed control to autonomous companies that are given "voluntary guidelines" instead of safety laws.
With the Senate considering attaching the AV START Act to the Aviation Act, consumer advocates recognize the absurdity of equating automation in the skies with automation on the highways. On one hand is an Act based on a lack of safety, and on the other is the Aviation Act driven by federal safety regulations that must be met, or else.
In addition to airliners going through constant safety inspections by trained personnel and flown by trained pilots, aviation automation systems have undergone years of study and testing before the planes ever left the ground.
But with proposed federal driverless car regulations?
"...the AV START Act, in its current form, would shockingly allow potentially millions of vehicles on the market to be exempt from meeting existing safety standards. The failures of unproven driving automation systems already have led, tragically, to crashes which have resulted in at least three deaths."
The consumer advocates know the AV START Act, if passed, will likely be the only driverless car policy for decades to come. And considering the feds don't want states to set their own rules, once Congress has passed the bill it will affect every person on the road.
Saying the "the bill, in its current form, fails to provide...minimal safety protections," the safety advocates did what NHTSA refuses to do by proposing common sense safety regulations before the AV START Act moves forward.
- Limit the size and scope of exemptions from federal driverless car safety standards.
- Require minimum performance standards such as a “vision test” for driverless technologies, cybersecurity and electronics system protections and distracted driving requirements when a human needs to take back control of a vehicle from a computer.
- Compel all driverless vehicles to capture detailed crash data in a format that will aid investigators such as the NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
- Ensure access and safety for members of all disability communities.
- Mandate all Level 2 (partially-automated) vehicles follow all safety critical provisions.
- Prohibit manufacturers from “turning off” systems such as steering wheels and gas pedals.
In addition, states and their localities should maintain the right to protect their citizens by regulating autonomous technology in the absence of federal regulations.
"It would be egregious to push the AV START Act through by tacking it onto a must-pass bill. Doing so would circumvent the regular legislative process and cut it off from full debate, discussion, transparent consideration, and the offering of amendments. The artificial urgency to advance this bill is disconnected from the reality that AVs [automated vehicles] are still potentially decades away."