A leading consumer group is raising red flags over a former highway safety chief’s move to join a self-driving vehicle firm he had a hand in regulating under the Obama administration.
Consumer Watchdog on Tuesday decried the hiring of former National Highway Traffic Safety Administration chief Mark Rosekind by autonomous vehicle developer Zoox.
“Consumers can have no confidence that NHTSA’s autonomous vehicle guidance was developed with public safety in mind when Administrator Rosekind was shopping his resume to potential future employers in the robot car industry while the policy was being drafted,” John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, said in a statement.
“If the public is to have any trust in government rules, the regulators simply cannot go to work for the companies they once regulated,” Simpson said.
Zoox announced Monday that Rosekind will join the company as chief safety innovation officer, leading efforts to “safely develop, test, and deploy autonomous vehicles.” In its release, Zoox noted that Rosekind worked with officials and autonomous vehicle developers to release the federal government’s first Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. The policy includes a 15-point set of guidelines that autonomous vehicle developers are expected to adopt as they develop the technology.
“Dr. Rosekind’s intellectual curiosity and lifelong passion for safety in mobility make him a natural fit for Zoox’s mission,” Zoox CEO Tim Kentley-Klay said in a statement.
Zoox did not respond directly to concerns about the timing of Rosekind’s hiring, but said the company was one of thousands of participants in an open and public discussion period around the federal self-driving vehicle policy guidelines.
The company said it hired Rosekind with an eye on improving safety not just for autonomous vehicles, but for drivers on roads everywhere. Rosekind could not immediately be reached for comment.
“For us and for Dr. Rosekind, it all comes down to saving lives and reducing injuries on our roads,” a company spokesman said. “Anything that distracts from the safety focus of how we save lives and prevent injuries also distracts from the opportunity that we have with autonomous mobility to reduce deaths and injuries on our roadways.”
Former U.S. transportation secretary Anthony Foxx lauded the hiring in the company new release, saying Rosekind played an “instrumental role” in crafting U.S. self-driving vehicle policy. Rosekind’s other major initiatives included the Road to Zero project, which aims to eliminate traffic fatalities over 30 years, and leading the department through the Takata airbag recall, the country’s largest product safety recall on record, affecting an estimated 42 million vehicles.
Consumer Watchdog said the U.S. Senate should refuse to confirm the next NHTSA secretary nominee unless he or she pledges not to work in the auto or self-driving car industries as an employee or consultant, for at least seven years after leaving the post.
The group also knocked Rosekind for recommending voluntary safety checks to self-driving vehicle firms in lieu of “enforceable regulations including new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards consumer advocates have called for.”
Zoox is based in Menlo Park, Calif., and has more than 200 employees.