Consumer Advocates Blast Make-Up Of Autonomous Vehicle Advisory Panel

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They accuse Obama of loading panel with industry executives

Politics, they say, makes for strange bedfellows. It's something we should probably get used to over the next four years.

Consumer Watchdog, a consumer advocacy group, wants President-elect Donald Trump to reverse an Obama administration appointment, firing General Motors CEO Mary Barra from the newly-established Department of Transportation Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation (ACAT).

The issue, apparently, is concern over the accelerating move toward self-driving vehicles. In a letter to the incoming President, Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, John M. Simpson, the group's privacy project director, and Joan Claybrook, Chair of Citizens for Reliable and Safe Highways, wrote that automated vehicles and other emerging technology threaten jobs, invade privacy, and make roads and highways less safe.

Singling out GM

And as head of GM, the consumer advocates say Barra should not be co-chair of ACAT. GM is on record as planning to test and launch autonomous vehicles in the next few years.

“We should not allow the robot makers alone to oversee the safety of vehicles coming out of robot factories, but the Obama Administration's eleventh hour appointments do just that," the consumer advocates wrote.

There are 25 members of the advisory group, which will guide Department of Transportation policy on autonomous vehicles. The consumer advocates are alarmed that 13 of the members represent corporations with a stake in the policy and other members are from industry trade associations.

"In keeping with your campaign pledge to 'drain the swamp' and protect the interests of ordinary people, we ask that the first firing of your Administration be co-chair Mary Barra, General Motors Chairman and CEO, who should not lead a panel recommending how to deploy her company's automated vehicles," the letter said.

Concerns about safety

The groups say autonomous vehicles may, indeed, provide benefits in the future, but advocates believe that any testing on public highways be done in a transparent way that protects the public safety.

The letter-writers were particularly irked that an Uber executive has been appointed to the panel, despite the fact that the company reportedly refused to obtain required permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test its robot cars in San Francisco.


Mark Huffman has been a consumer news reporter for ConsumerAffairs since 2004. He covers real estate, gas prices and the economy and has reported extensively on negative-option sales. He was previously an Associated Press reporter and editor in Washington, D.C., a correspondent for Westwoood One Radio Networks and Marketwatch.

Email Mark Huffman  Phone: 866-773-0221

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