WASHINGTON, D.C. — Two U.S. senators today introduced a bill to set up a separate legal framework for the safety of highly automated vehicles, including self-driving cars, that is weaker than the safeguards for cars on the road today, according to Consumers Union, the policy and mobilization division of Consumer Reports.
The bill — S. 1885, the AV START Act — sponsored by Sens. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.) seeks to change the existing laws and procedures for auto safety in the interest of speeding up the rollout of these vehicles.
Consumers Union said it has strong concerns that the bill does not adequately protect consumers or ensure that the self-driving cars of the future will be safe.
It said the legislation would:
- Allow hundreds of thousands, possibly millions, of cars on the market that are exempt from federal safety standards and do not adequately protect occupants in a crash
- Invalidate state and local highway safety laws and undermine traditional state and local roles, including supervision of the safe operation of vehicles on public roads
- Ignore critical recommendations by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to help ensure the safety of the partially automated, Level 2 vehicles that already are on the market, which are based on the NTSB’s findings that Tesla’s “Autopilot” driver-assist system played a major role in the May 2016 fatal crash of a Model S in Florida
David Friedman, director of cars and product policy and analysis for Consumers Union, said, “This bill falls far short of what consumers need. Instead of making consumer safety the top priority, it removes critical guardrails to create a fast lane for self-driving cars—regardless of the quality of evidence showing whether they’re safe.
“Self-driving cars have enormous potential to improve mobility and make our roads safer, but undermining existing safeguards risks tragic crashes that would set them back decades. Congress should instead require NHTSA to develop a safety net for this critical technology and give the agency the resources it needs to take action quickly,” Friedman added.
William Wallace, policy analyst for Consumers Union, said, “Federal law shouldn’t leave consumers as guinea pigs. Consumers are already buying cars today with partially automated driver-assist features that—if designed improperly—can all too easily lead consumers to think a car can drive itself, when it can’t. We were hopeful that this bill would include much stronger measures to protect consumers against known emerging safety risks. Unfortunately, in the bill’s current form, it doesn’t.
“Ultimately, this bill includes some of the same main faults as legislation that recently passed the House. In particular, the bill doesn’t do enough to protect data security or consumer privacy, considering that the cars of today and tomorrow essentially are computers on wheels. We look forward to working with the sponsors and all senators to produce a far stronger bill that better protects consumers,” Wallace added.
Working side by side with consumers, Consumers Union consistently has advocated for more robust protections in the emerging automated vehicle landscape. The organization has educated policymakers with Consumer Reports test results and journalism, urged action against unsafe or misleading automated driving features, and provided feedback on legislative proposals, both informally and in testimony before Congress.
As it continues to review the Senate legislation, Consumers Union will carefully evaluate the bill’s provisions and push senators to turn this into a strong bill—one that puts safety first, regardless of whether a human or software is doing the driving.
Source: Consumer Reports is the world’s largest independent product-testing organization. Using its more than 50 labs, auto test center, and survey research center, the nonprofit rates thousands of products and services annually. Founded in 1936, Consumer Reports has over 7 million subscribers to its magazine, website, and other publications. Its policy and mobilization division, Consumers Union, works for health reform, food and product safety, financial reform, and other consumer issues in Washington, D.C., the states, and in the marketplace.
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