Consumer Groups Ask That Autonomous Technology Slow Down

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Consumer Watchdog, along with three auto safety advocates, has written a letter to President Obama urging his administration to stop attempts allowing autonomous vehicle technology on the roads in the wake of reports of a fatal crash involving Tesla’s autonomous system. One day later, Consumer Reports called on Tesla to disable and update the autonomous function.

On Wednesday, July 13, Consumer Watchdog reached out to President Obama to stop “undue haste” with legislation regarding autonomous vehicles. In the letter, the consumer group points out that Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Mark R. Rosekind, administrator for National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, have vowed to help accelerate deployment of autonomous vehicles. The group asks for the administration not to move forward until adequate safety standards have been established through a public rulemaking process.

Former NHTSA Administrator Joan Claybrook; Center For Auto Safety Executive Director Clarence Ditlow; and Rosemary Shahan, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety president, also signed the letter, which came shortly after news of a fatal crash involving an autonomous Tesla Model S that ran into a truck. The autonomous system did not see the white trailer against the backdrop of a bright sky.

“‘Autopilot’ technology that cannot sense a white truck in its path, and that fails to brake when a collision is imminent, has no place on the public roads,” the letter reads.

Consumer Watchdog also suggests that Tesla recall and disable Autopilot in its vehicles. Only after NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board complete their investigation and the technology is proven safe should the function reinstate the feature.

In addition, the letter points out several instances where NHTSA made actions in favor of autonomous vehicles without going through the proper public rulemaking process.

“The rules of the road for automated technologies that would dramatically alter transportation in this country should be developed thoughtfully, in the light of day and with the highest level of transparency and public participation,” the letter said.

“To that end Consumer Watchdog has called on Secretary Foxx and Administrator Rosekind to pledge they will not work as an employee or consultant to developers of self-driving autonomous vehicles for at least seven years after leaving their respective positions,” the letter requests. “So far, there has been no response and we call on you, Mr. President, to make that request of your appointees.”

One day after Consumer Watchdog issued its letter, Consumer Reports called on Tesla to disable the automatic steering function until the system can confirm that the driver’s hands remain on the wheel at all times.

Consumer Reports also asked Tesla to change the “Autopilot” name. The nonprofit advocacy group claims the name “Autopilot” suggests the vehicle can drive itself without human intervention.

Consumer Reports called for Tesla to act on the following:

    • Disable the Autosteer function of the Autopilot system until it can be reprogrammed to require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel;
    • Stop referring to the system as “Autopilot” as it is misleading and potentially dangerous;
    • Issue clearer guidance to owners on how the system should be used and its limitations; and
    • Test all safety-critical systems fully before public deployment; no more Beta releases.

On Thursday, July 14, Reuters reported Senator John Thune, R-S.D., wrote a letter to Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk asking the CEO to brief the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation on the May 7 fatal crash by July 29.


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