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Groups Pressure Senate Leaders to Halt Autonomous Car Bill

March 08, 2018

Photo of U.S. Capitol via WallyG/Flickr.
Photo of U.S. Capitol via WallyG/Flickr.

A coalition of 27 public interest groups is asking congressional leaders to reconsider legislation that would stimulate the development and deployment of self-driving vehicles.

In a letter to Senate leaders Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and Chuck Schumer (D-New York), the coalition claims that today's autonomous vehicle technology still has safety flaws and is not advanced enough for widespread, safe testing on public roads, according to a report on CNET's Road Show website. One significant safety problem, noted the group, is the inability of many autonomous vehicle systems to identify cyclists correctly.

The 27 signatories represent public health and safety, bicyclists, pedestrians, consumers, disability communities, law enforcement, environmentalists, first responders, smart-growth advocates and crash victims'' families, reports Automotive News.

The legislation — the American Vision for Safer Transportation Through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies (AV START Act) — aims to deregulate the autonomous vehicle sector, according to the group. They argue that the bill grants automakers broad exemptions and strips the federal regulatory system of appropriate oversight, putting the public's safety at risk.

The coalition has proposed several changes to the legislation per the reports that include:

  • Reducing the number of vehicles allowed exemptions from safety standards.

The current statutes allow companies to apply for a safety exemption for up to 2,500 cars per 12-month period to test new technology. The AV bill would remove this restriction, allowing virtually unlimited exemptions on cars that will be sold to the public.

  • Removing language that gives manufacturers total freedom to disable autonomous vehicle systems, including the steering wheel and brakes.

Manufacturers are currently prohibited from rendering safety systems inoperable without adequate justification and approval from the US DOT. Section 7 of AV START Act would give auto manufacturers sole discretion to ignore existing safety standards without giving US DOT any oversight.

  • Establishing minimum performance standards for the computers that operate autonomous vehicles, including a "vision test" for determining whether the system can identify other cars, pedestrians, traffic signs and other surroundings.
  • Ensuring adequate consumer education so that the public understands the limitations and capabilities of self-driving cars at the point of sale.
  • Increasing NHTSA's budget so it can adequately take on extra mission of regulating autonomous vehicles.
  • Including Level 2 autonomous vehicles in critical safety provisions.
  • Addressing the needs of people with disabilities, such as storage of wheelchairs.

Removing provisions that preempt states and localities from protecting their motorists.

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