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 Staff Draft at Subcommittee Markup

Technologies like electronic stability control and automatic emergency braking already have saved many thousands of lives. As automation continues to advance, the promise of self-driving cars is clear: these vehicles have enormous potential to make our roads safer by significantly reducing crashes from driver error while enhancing mobility for millions of older Americans, disabled individuals, and other consumers nationwide. Subcommittee members should follow a smart, safe path in realizing this promise—a path that would both protect consumer safety and ensure trust in the technology.

The Staff Draft has several provisions that would help consumers better understand emerging technologies and, in some cases, protect them from harm. 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.
  • Instructs NHTSA to research headlamps, specifically to inform the development of updated standards or other requirements to enhance headlamps’ performance and improve overall safety.

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

  • Ensure that automakers demonstrate automated vehicles’ safety and don’t put consumers at greater risk in a crash. The bill should require companies seeking exemptions from safety standards to submit data demonstrating how a self-driving feature would maintain and enhance safety overall, and how it functions safely in real-world situations. Also, consumers should be protected in the event of a crash, regardless of whether a human driver or software is doing the driving, and no exemptions should be given for the crashworthiness or occupant protection aspects of safety standards.
  • 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 meaningful privacy requirements, including data minimization and limits on commercial use.
  • Protect the ability of states to take action on behalf of their citizens. We do not support restricting states’ safety authority without strong federal safety standards in place. However, if the bill does include any such restrictions, they should not infringe on key state and local road safety functions, such as enforcement of traffic laws and a car’s roadworthiness, first responder activity, and crash investigations.

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.