Self-Driving Cars Can Deliver Unprecedented Safety and Mobility, but New Protections Are Needed to Ensure Safety, Boost Automaker Transparency and Accountability

CU Urges Key Improvements to H.R. 3388 at Energy and Commerce Committee Markup

Technologies like electronic stability control and automatic emergency braking already have saved thousands of lives. Self-driving cars could soon follow suit: they have enormous potential to save lives by significantly reducing crashes from driver error while enhancing mobility for millions of Americans nationwide. Members should follow a smart, safe path in realizing this promise—one that would both protect consumer safety and ensure trust in the technology.

Parts of H.R. 3388 / the SELF DRIVE Act have the potential to protect consumers from harm and inform them about new technologies. Through these provisions, the bill:

  • Makes safety assessment certification submissions mandatory, which would help ensure that NHTSA receives critical information from entities developing highly automated vehicles.
  • Instructs NHTSA to set a rulemaking and safety priority plan to determine—based on safety evidence—what initiatives it should prioritize in terms of setting new safety standards.
  • Requires companies to develop cybersecurity plans to protect car occupants and their data.
  • Directs NHTSA to find the most effective ways to inform consumers about cars’ capabilities and limitations, so that consumers can understand and use automated systems safely.
  • Reduces the risk of injury or death by children in hot cars by requiring new vehicles to come equipped with a rear seat occupant alert system.

However, other portions of the SELF DRIVE Act fail to adequately protect consumers and do not do enough to guarantee that self-driving cars actually improve safety. To address these deficiencies, members should:

  • Limit the number and duration of exemptions to what can be specifically justified for safety. No specific safety-related justifications have been presented for significant increases in the maximum number and time period of available exemptions, nor for the fact that the bill goes beyond highly automated vehicles to dramatically expand available exemptions under existing provisions.
  • Prohibit exemptions that would put consumers at greater risk of harm in a crash. No exemptions should be granted that would undermine impact protection for occupants. Consumers must be protected in a crash regardless of whether a human or software is doing the driving.
  • Strengthen reporting requirements. NHTSA should have quick access to crash data for all automated vehicles, not just those receiving exemptions, so that it can adequately oversee the safety of these cars as they are deployed. The quarterly reporting envisioned by the bill is far too infrequent, given that the cars of tomorrow—and some today—will promptly share data with automakers following a crash. A 15-day deadline for reports would not only be possible, but it also could save lives as automakers increase the use of over-the-air driving software updates.
  • Protect the ability of states to take action on behalf of their citizens. Where strong federal safety standards are absent, Congress shouldn’t infringe on states and localities’ ability to keep roads safe. Members should remove language in the bill that could undermine traditional state and local roles, including over the safe operation of vehicles on public roads.
  • Bolster consumer privacy and data security protections. The bill should require companies to notify consumers of system breaches and updates to data security policies or procedures. It also should include more protective privacy requirements, such as limits on commercial use.

As Congress continues its work on automated vehicles, members have the chance to pave the way to a positive future—or leave self-driving cars at risk of safety crises that could set the technology back. We strongly urge members to take a smart, safe approach to the development of self-driving cars.

For the full letter, click here.