Consumer Watchdog Tells Congress Not To Grant Safety Exemptions For Self-Driving Robot Cars

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SANTA MONICA, CA – Congress will put lives at risk if it rushes to grant self-driving robot cars a shortcut around safety rules to eliminate the requirement that humans be able to intervene, Consumer Watchdog said today as the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on the developing technology.

According to Google reports, a driver was compelled to take over one of its self-driving cars 341 times, showing the need for a steering wheel and brake pedal so humans can intervene when these cars drive on city streets, Consumer Watchdog said. Google’s submitted testimony for today’s hearing indicates it intends to press for speed over safety.

“Rushing new technology to the roads will leave safety by the wayside and put drivers at risk. Federal regulators have a process for writing rules to keep the public safe, and Congress shouldn’t skirt those rules just because tech industry giants like Google ask them to. Speed is not a friend to safety,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.

A Department of Transportation report released last week found that automated vehicles with traditional designs and equipment to accommodate a human driver can meet federal safety rules, but a vehicle without such controls, such as a steering wheel or brake pedal, cannot. In California, where most autonomous vehicles are being tested, the state Department of Motor Vehicles has drafted rules requiring a human be able to take over the car.

Read the DOT report here:

National Highway Traffic Safety Administrator Mark Rosekind released the DOT report as he announced that NHTSA would hold two public meetings in April, one in Washington and the other in California, focused on autonomous vehicle technology policy.  A coalition of consumer groups had called for public meetings on self-driving technology in a March 3 letter to Rosekind and Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx.  

Read the letter from Consumer Watchdog, Consumers Union, the Center for Auto Safety, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, and former NHTSA Administrator and Public Citizen President Emeritus Joan Claybrook here:

The California Department of Motor Vehicles has proposed regulations covering the general deployment of autonomous vehicles in the state. The new DMV regulations would require a human driver behind the wheel and brake pedal capable of taking control, just as is now required with self-driving cars that are being tested on the state’s pubic roads.  Google has objected to the proposal.

“Given the current state of robot car technology, it’s clear that there should be a driver behind a steering wheel and brake pedal capable of taking control when necessary,” said Simpson.

Consumer Watchdog said that Google’s own test results demonstrate the need for a driver who can intervene.  A required report filed with the DMV showed the self-driving robot car technology failed 341 times during the reporting period.  The self-driving technology could not cope and turned over control 272 times, while the test driver felt compelled to intervene 69 times.

On Valentine’s Day a Google robot car crashed into a transit bus.  Rosekind has said that NHTSA is seeking more information about the incident.

“Google should publicly release all video and technical data associated with the crash,” said Simpson.


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