April 5, 2017 — The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has come under fire for its voluntary agreements made with companies concerning driverless cars invading U.S. roads.
Consumer advocates have repeatedly complained NHTSA should be creating rules to mandate self-driving companies abide by strict regulations enforced by safety regulators. But the government seems to be more concerned with allowing driverless car companies to test their technology under only voluntary guidelines.
One of the biggest champions of those guidelines is former NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind who has now taken a job with self-driving car company Zoox. Rosekind was one of the chief architects behind NHTSA's 15-point checklist that companies must use to test self-driving vehicles on the roads, a checklist that is completely voluntary.
Now advocacy group Consumer Watchdog says that Rosekind joining forces with the very industry he was supposed to regulate is the latest example of NHTSA staff taking jobs in the auto industry, a process seen as unethical, and something that undermines the public's trust in the safety agency.
Consumer Watchdog views this as selling out to the auto industry for a high-paying job, something that makes it appear NHTSA is similar to a job fair for automakers.
"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." – Consumer Watchdog
Consumer Watchdog called on the Senate to refuse to confirm the next nominee for NHTSA administrator unless the nominee pledges not to work as an employee or consultant to the auto industry or developers of self-driving car technology for at least seven years after leaving the position.
"It's simply outrageous that companies using our public streets as their private laboratories are playing by rules crafted by people who end up working for them." – Consumer Watchdog
Consumer advocates say NHTSA is ignoring its safety responsibilities by leaving enforceable regulations on the floor and allowing the self-driving car industry to regulate itself.
The advocacy group says Rosekind is not the first top NHTSA staffer to join the industry the agency allegedly regulates. In addition, it seems to be a disturbing trend as the Department of Transportation inspector general found that 40 officials left NHTSA for jobs with automakers, their law firms or auto industry consultants, all from 1984 to 2010.
In January, General Motors hired NHTSA's chief counsel, Paul Hemmersbaugh, to serve as policy director with a focus on "transportation as a service." Consumer Watchdog says Hemmersbaugh's resume describes him as the principal author of NHTSA's federal automated vehicles policy.
Zoox, based in Silicon Valley, is one of 27 companies with permits to test self-driving cars on public roads in California.