Auto Safety

CFA Encourages Thorough Testing of Autonomous Vehicles – And Consumers Agree

Statement of Jack Gillis on the Release of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety's Survey of Consumer Attitudes Towards Autonomous Vehicles

Autonomous vehicles have the potential to be a technological vaccine that could dramatically reduce the tragic toll that autos take on our society.  However, like any successful vaccine, they need to be thoroughly tested to specific standards, before they are made available to the public.

In addition to the various concerns already raised at this press conference, cybersecurity and data availability, when it comes to the complex operational and communication systems needed to insure safe and efficient autonomous vehicles, must also be a top priority.

We already know that hackers can gain remote control of a vehicle and put occupants at deadly risk. Given the recent record of high-profile cyberattacks at major companies, safeguards against catastrophic AV hacking are critically important. We live in a new reality where vehicles can be weaponized and carmakers have already issued safety recalls due to cybersecurity defects. On AV cybersecurity, Congress is asleep at the wheel as both the Senate and House failed to outline the specific requirements of an effective cybersecurity plan. No definition, no requirements, no oversight.  Just telling companies to come up with a plan is simply irresponsible when a hacker can turn a driverless car into a two-ton weapon on wheels.

And consumers are concerned.  In fact, the Advocates poll indicated strong support for cybersecurity rules to protect AVs from being hacked. Eight in ten respondents (81 percent) across generations, regions, gender, and income levels support the government creating cybersecurity rules that would protect driverless vehicles from hackers.

In addition to the security issues there are also privacy and commercialization issues.  Because AVs will be tracked and monitored, regulations are needed to insure that this information remains the privy and property of the consumer.  Furthermore, because of the bandwidth being allocated to AV communications, we are concerned that much of it will be used for commercialization, which can not only seriously annoy consumers, but increase the already growing problem of distracted driving.

As they operate, AVs will be collecting tremendous amounts of technical and performance data–information vital to the independent analysis of the efficacy of the various AV operations.  This information needs to be made publically and consumers need it to make informed purchase decisions regarding AVs, all of which will have various features and performance levels.

One of the best ways to educate consumers about this new technology is to make safety information about driverless cars easily available online. Nearly 90 percent of respondents (87%) to the Advocates’ survey believe that the government should have a website with information about AV features.  In fact, needing this information generated the most support of any question in the Advocates’ poll.

It’s no surprise that the vast majority of consumers want this information. And it is especially important with AVs because there are no standards set by the DOT that make it clear what AV features can, and cannot, do. This database must also let consumer know which AVs are actually exempt from federal safety standards.

The good news is that the DOT has a system in place. Safercar.gov provides vehicle safety information and the ability to look up recall information by VIN.  Manufacturers must submit AV feature information to DOT by VIN number so it can reside in this already created system.  This will enable the over 50 million American’s who buy new and used cars to precisely determine the features of a particular AV, and the public exposure will serve to stimulate competition in developing the very best AV features.  As the government and industry attempts to roll out AVs without any type of standards or consistent nomenclature—basic, comparative information about AV features is an absolute minimum.  And, as the Advocates poll clearly shows, is a top priority for consumers.

The Consumer Federation of America appreciates the efforts that the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety have gone to uncover American’s attitudes to one of the most profound product introductions in the nation’s history.  Addressing the issues raised at this press conference, and which the Advocates poll shows consumers are clearly concerned about, will help insure that AVs can actually reach their full potential as a lifesaving addition to America’s highways.