Auto Safety

Jack Gillis on Needed Changes to Senate’s AV Start Act

The following is a statement delivered by CFA Executive Director Jack Gillis at a July 23, 2018 press conference regarding needed changes to the Senate’s AV Start Act (S. 1885).

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.  The current version of the AV START Act (S. 1885) falls woefully short on the protections needed to insure the safe introduction of the autonomous vehicle.

In addition to the various concerns already raised at this press conference, privacy, data availability, government oversight, and transparency must be a top priority to insure safe and efficient autonomous vehicles.

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 will seriously annoy consumers, and 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 available.  Independent experts need to assess AV capabilities.  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. It’s no surprise that the vast majority of consumers want this information. And it is especially important with AVs because there are currently 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 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.

Finally, for there to be proper government oversight of these extraordinarily complex and highly technical products, Congress must mandate, and provide funding for, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to establish an AV oversight division within the agency staffed with the technical know-how needed to both understand and monitor this new technology.  Right now, the Agency is incapable of overseeing AV technology even if it wanted to.  Without such an effort, the car and tech companies pushing AVs onto American roadways will set their own standards.  Given the serious recalls by the car companies and the data breaches by the tech companies, this is a recipe for disaster.  For AVs to reach their full potential as a lifesaving addition to America’s highways—there must be thoughtful and effective regulatory oversight—as currently written, the AV START Act fails do to that on a number of fronts.