NHTSA Needs Enforceable Motor Vehicle Safety Standards for Robot Cars

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The National Highway Safety Administration has apparently bought into the hype from robot car manufacturers and has failed to take necessary steps to protect the nation’s highways.

As Consumer Watchdog just told NHSA in formal comments filed with the agency about the Federal Automated Vehicles Policy, voluntary guidance  is insufficient.  NHTSA’s policy merely sets forth a laundry list of policy concerns and aspirations. Nothing is enforceable.

NHTSA is  doing little more than asking manufacturers to please drop the agency a letter outlining how they have dealt with 15 issues as part of a so-called "safety assessment.” Apparently all it takes to deploy a fully automated robot car is a 47 cent postage stamp. And, even responding to NHTSA's request is completely voluntary.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s comments to NHTSA here.

Robot car manufacturers have argued for a hands-off approach claiming rules hamper innovation.  It’s a bogus argument. Innovation thrives hand-in-hand with thoughtful, deliberate regulation. The Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standard (FMVSS) process, when properly implemented and continuously enforced, has served Americans well for the last fifty years.  When performance standards are set, manufacturers try innovative ways to meet them.

Introduction of autonomous features on vehicles will be gradual, giving the agency plenty of opportunity to develop FMVSS for these advanced features.  The development of the necessary and enforceable FMVSS covering automated technologies must be the agency’s immediate priority.

The federal policy must not pre-empt any state regulations, especially when there are no FMVSS specifically applicable to Highly Autonomous Vehicles (HAVs). NHTSA should make transparency of data a top priority in this process to speed discovery of safety defects and dangers of autonomous vehicles as they are tested on public highways.

NHTSA describes its Federal Automated Vehicle Policy as “a starting point that provides needed initial guidance to industry, government, and consumers,” concerning automated vehicles.  In fact, far from a “starting point,” the Policy instead is NHTSA’s map to rush self-driving cars to the road without enacting regulations setting enforceable performance standards.  NHTSA needs to put the brakes on its mad rush, and enact enforceable regulations to protect our safety.

John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson
John M. Simpson is an American consumer rights advocate and former journalist. Since 2005, he has worked for Consumer Watchdog, a nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group, as the lead researcher on Inside Google, the group's effort to educate the public about Google's dominance over the internet and the need for greater online privacy.

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