Washington — Uber Technologies Inc. is being pressed to make public information about any accidents or other problems with its self-driving cars as it prepares to begin operating autonomous Ford Fusion hybrids to pick up customers in Pittsburgh.
The Santa Monica-based Consumer Watchdog group said the popular ride-hailing company should make available information about its self-driving cars because it is planning to conduct trials on the streets in downtown Pittsburgh instead of a closed course. Free pick-up service is expected to begin this month. Drivers will be ready to assume control if there’s a problem.
“You have opted to use public roads as your laboratory and with that comes a responsibility to fully disclose exactly what you are doing both when things go right and when they inevitably go wrong,” John Simpson, Consumer Watchdog Privacy Project director wrote in a letter to Uber CEO Travis Kalanick that was dated Wednesday.
Simpson added that Uber should volunteer to make information about its self-driving car use in Pittsburgh public because laws about driverless cars vary from state to state.
“Some states, such as California, have regulations covering the testing of self-driving robot vehicles; Pennsylvania does not,” he wrote.
The consumer advocacy group called on Uber to match a California regulation that requires companies to publicly report all crashes involving test vehicles via disclosure forms that are made public on the Golden State’s Department of Motor Vehicles website.
“Because Pennsylvania does not have self-driving robot car regulations, you could simply post crash reports on your own website,” Simpson wrote.
The consumer group said Uber should also “publicly release any technical data and videos related to any crash” and “issue monthly reports similar to what Google now does, detailing your testing activities and what you have learned.”
The watchdog organization said Uber should also “compile and publicly release disengagement reports,” which detail circumstances when the self-driving technology cedes control to the test driver, or when the test driver felt compelled to take control of autonomous vehicle.
Uber did not respond to a request for comment from The Detroit News on the demands from the consumer watchdog group.
When the plan was announced in August, Kalanick said, “We’ve got to be laser-focused on getting this to market, because it’s not a side project for us. This is everything. This is all the marbles for Uber.”
The debate about self-driving car disclosures come as a legislative package that would let companies operate driverless vehicles on Michigan roads with very few limits was approved in the Michigan Senate this week.
The new laws would allow the Michigan public to buy and use fully driverless cars whenever they are available. They would also allow an autonomous car without a steering wheel or pedals, and not require that a human be ready to take control in an emergency. Until now, autonomous vehicles could only be driven in Michigan for test purposes, and a driver had to be at the ready.
The lax proposed rules have been viewed as an attempt to keep Michigan ahead of competing states like California and Florida that are trying to lure companies and investments with autonomous car-friendly laws.