Consumer Watchdog, a nonprofit consumer interests group, has urged President Obama and his administration to delay any regulation regarding autonomous vehicles. In a letter to the president, the consumer advocacy group claims newly discovered documents reveal an inappropriate relationship between Google and the feds.
The letter claims emails from 2011 to 2016 reveal Google recruited White House officials and federal regulators to lobby state officials against rules that may not have favored the tech company’s plans for self-driving vehicles. Consumer Watchdog suggested that White House officials deferred to Google rather than institute “a transparent process involving all stakeholders.”
In one email obtained by the Campaign for Accountability’s Google Transparency Project, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration official wrote the following to Google representatives:
“I dropped Rob from this loop because I’m not sure whether he should be in Google communication to NHTSA at this point, although I’m not sure of the odd ethical lines we feds have to observe in this regard.”
Emails obtained by Campaign for Accountability can be found here.
Consumer Watchdog also pointed out how former NHTSA officials are actively involved in promoting self-driving cars alongside tech and auto manufacturing companies. More specifically, former NHTSA Administrator David L. Strickland is counsel and spokesman for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, composed of Google, Lyft, Uber, Ford and Volvo. In addition, three other former NHTSA officials are representing Google and its self-driving program before current officials they used to work with.
The consumer advocacy group is calling on President Obama to block NHTSA’s autonomous vehicle guidelines and to put an end to the revolving door between Washington, D.C., and corporate lobbyists.
“In an effort to end the revolving door Consumer Watchdog has called on Secretary Foxx and (NHTSA) 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 group said in a press release. “So far, there has been no response and we call on you, Mr. President, to demand that commitment to ethical behavior from your appointees.”
In July, Consumer Watchdog wrote an open letter to President Obama making the same request of halting regulations for autonomous vehicles. In that letter, the consumer group points out that Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and Mark R. Rosekind, administrator for NHTSA, 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. The letter was sent out in the wake of a high-profile fatal crash involving Tesla’s autonomous system.