Self-Driving Cars: Consumers Union Urges Senators to Oppose Bill Unless Significant Changes Made

Experts

Director of Cars and Product Policy and Analysis
Policy Analyst
Communications Director
Sr. Media Relations Associate

 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

WASHINGTON, D.C –  As a Senate committee prepares to consider a bill to speed up the introduction of self-driving cars, Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports, urged members to vote “no” on the bill unless significant improvements were made to address safety concerns.

The Senate Commerce Committee is scheduled to hold a markup of the American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act (AV START Act, S. 1885) on Wednesday, October 4.

In a letter to members of the committee, Consumers Union said the bill would make major changes to critical auto safety laws and procedures.  It would create a new legal framework for autonomous vehicles, including self-driving cars, that would be significantly weaker than the safeguards for cars on the road today.

David Friedman, Director of Cars and Product Policy and Analysis for Consumers Union, said, “This bill would not adequately protect consumers or ensure that the self-driving cars of the future will be safe. We believe senators should overhaul the bill to put safety first, or vote ‘no.’ Self-driving cars have great potential to make our roads safer by significantly reducing crashes linked to driver error, and they could provide more transportation options for people who can’t drive traditional cars. But we shouldn’t compromise federal and state protections that have enhanced auto safety for decades in the pursuit to bring these cars to market.”

William Wallace, Policy Analyst for Consumers Union, said, “We need legislation that takes a smart, safe path to self-driving cars. Automakers need to be held accountable for safety, but as currently written, this bill would put the drive toward accountability in reverse.  Any effort to accelerate the deployment of automated vehicles should be evidence-based. Manufacturers should be required to demonstrate how automated systems improve safety, and there should be sensible, binding measures to protect consumers against new hazards that may emerge.”

Consumers Union praised some provisions in the bill, such as requirements for manufacturers to submit safety evaluation reports to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

However, the organization offered a list of serious concerns about many other provisions in the legislation:

  • The bill would allow hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of cars on the market that are exempt from federal safety standards and do not adequately protect occupants in a crash.
  • The bill would invalidate state and local highway safety laws and undermine traditional state and local roles, including supervision of the safe operation of vehicles on public roads.
  • The bill ignores critical recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to help ensure the safety of the partially automated, Level 2 vehicles that already are on the market, which are based on the NTSB’s findings that Tesla’s “Autopilot” driver-assist system played a major role in the May 2016 fatal crash of a Model S in Florida.

Consumers Union recommended several ways the bill should be strengthened, such as:

  • The bill should not grant self-driving vehicles any exemptions from motor vehicle safety standards that would undermine impact protection for occupants.
  • The overall number of vehicles that can receive safety exemptions should be significantly reduced and an overall cap on the number allowed for each automaker should be included.
  • Vehicles with partial driving automation, or Level 2 vehicles, should be covered under the bill’s mandatory submission of a safety evaluation report.
  • NHTSA should have quick access to crash data for all automated vehicles.
  • Where strong federal safety standards are absent, the bill should not limit states and localities’ ability to keep roads safe or to close gaps in protection that exist.
  • The bill’s data protection provisions should build on the existing cybersecurity requirements to be significantly stronger.
  • The committee should authorize significantly increased funding in this bill. These resources would be critical for NHTSA—a chronically underfunded agency—to be able to more effectively fulfill its existing efforts to address persistent driving hazards as well as the requirements in the bill.

The full text of the letter from Consumers Union to members of the Committee is available here.

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Contact: David Butler, dbutler@consumer.org, or Kara Kelber, kara.kelber@consumer.org, 202-462-6262

 

Consumers Union is the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports.  Consumers Union works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace. Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization.  Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually.  Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 8 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications.