Safety Group to Senate: Clue in to the 'Baseless and Exaggerated Predictions' Swirling Around Autonomous Vehicles

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
safety group to senate clue in to the 8216 baseless and exaggerated predictions

Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration embraced autonomous technology by redefining how it categorized cars. Spurred by automakers and tech companies, the government has opened its eyes to this new technology and seen it as a way to potentially save lives by reducing the number of roadway accidents caused by human error.

Congress has been confronted with numerous pieces of legislation on the matter, too — prospective laws that would allow automakers to put hundreds of thousands of autonomous vehicles on the street, without the need to adhere to existing safety regulations. Many have called the move necessary if the United States hopes to be the first country to produce a truly self-driving car and start saving some lives.

It sounds almost too good to be true, and some claim it actually is. A group of public interest organizations is attempting to sound the bullshit alarm, claiming automakers are misleading government officials in the hopes of developing and profiting from unproven technology.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic leader Charles Schumer, the coalition voiced its strong objection to the lack of safety protections in the Senate driverless car legislation (AV START Act, S. 1885), asking lawmakers to chill out on any new legislation until they’ve taken a long, hard look at autonomous vehicle technology.

“Baseless and exaggerated predictions about the readiness and reliability of driverless car technology are propelling legislation that significantly strips the current federal regulatory system of its appropriate authority and oversight thereby endangering the safety of everyone — both motorists and non-motorists,” the letter read.

The coalition, which is associated with Advocates for Highway & Auto Safety, is comprised of 27 groups representing public health and safety, bicyclists, pedestrians, consumers activists, environmental interests, disability communities, fire and rescue responders, law enforcement, and the families of autonomous crash victims.

“The legislation attempts to solve a ‘problem’ that doesn’t exist. The deployment of driverless cars is not impeded by regulatory requirements,” the letter continues. “Rather, the industry is faced with the complex challenge of developing driverless technologies and solving a myriad of operational problems including weather, traffic signals, and cybersecurity, among others. Additionally, experts have identified the difficult and potentially fatal flaw of autonomous vehicle technology to accurately detect and react to bicyclists on the road.”

It goes on to cite a handful of incidents where existing autonomous tech caused accidents and cited numerous examples suggesting development isn’t nearly as far along as automakers want the public to believe. There’s also a list of demands for ensuring the safe deployment of these vehicles.

Under current laws, manufacturers can petition for permission to sell up to 2,500 safety-exempt cars per year for two years. However, the AV START Act would allow the Department of Transportation to up that figure to 80,000 vehicles per manufacturer after three years, including vehicles that could be sold to the public.

One of the safety coalition’s demands centers around this. The group urges lawmakers to reduce the number of vehicles exempted from safety standards. It also wants Section 7 omitted from the bill, which allows AV manufacturers to turn off vehicle systems at their discretion, including the steering wheel and brakes.

The group also asked Congress to establish a minimum performance standard for autonomous vehicles to adhere to, ensure states have the rights to protect their own citizens, ensure adequate consumer information on the subject, provide the NHTSA with the resources and tools it needs to effectively do its job, and incorporate Level 2 autonomy in critical safety provisions.

“We urge you to disregard the industry’s artificial urgency about eliminating what they label as ‘regulatory roadblocks’ and allow time to make needed improvements to the AV START Act. These changes will not prevent the deployment of driverless cars in any way, but they will prevent major mistakes that could result in flawed decision-making, faulty technology, avoidable fatalities and public rejection.”

[Image: Toyota Research Institute]

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  • Turf3 Turf3 on Mar 06, 2018

    Well, we all know that consumer-grade computer hardware or software never fails, so we can all rest easy. Personally, I am all in favor of autonomous vehicles, but only if they are required to be painted with diagonal black and yellow stripes and carry a rotating red beacon on top. Why has no one (but me) proposed this?

  • Turf3 Turf3 on Mar 06, 2018

    Well, we all know that consumer-grade computer hardware or software never fails, so we can all rest easy. Personally, I am all in favor of autonomous vehicles, but only if they are required to be painted with diagonal black and yellow stripes and carry a rotating red beacon on top. Why has no one (but me) proposed this? That's how AGVs in factories are typically set up.

  • Ehaase 1980-1982 Cougar XR-7 shared its wheelbase and body with the Thunderbird. I think the Cougar name was used for the 1977 and 1981 sedans, regular coupe and wagons (1977 and 1982 only) in an effort to replicate Oldsmobile's success using the Cutlass name on all its intermediates, although I wonder why Ford bothered, as the Granada/Cougar were replaced by the Fox LTD/Marquis in 1983.
  • Ken Accomando The Mark VIII was actually designed before the aero Bird, but FMC was nervous about the huge change in design, so it followed the Thunderbird a year. Remember, at this time, the 1983 Thunderbird was the first new aero Ford, with the Tempo soon following. It seems so obvious now but Ford was concerned if their buyers would accept the new aero look! To get the Lincoln buyers warmed up, they also debuted for the 1982 auto show season the Lincoln Concept 90…which really previewed the new Mark VII. Also, the new 1983 Thunderbird and Cougar debuted a little late, in Nov 1982, so perhaps that’s why they were left out of the full line brochures.
  • Tassos This is yesterday;s news, or even the day before. I reported it here yesterday, and commented on it. Do wake up.
  • 2ACL As far as manufacturers with US operations go? Current Focus or Fiesta. Honda e.As for those with no US operations, I've been intrigued by the Peugeot 508 Sport Engineered and Vauxhall Corsa Electric.
  • Tassos SNAAB shot itself in the foot when it BASTARDIZED its unique brand by BADGE ENGINEERING its vehicles with GOD DAMNED GM, OPEL, CHEVY, LANCIA and who knows what other automotive RIFF RAFF. I know of no Saab Enthusiast (they do exist) who felt sorry when the stupid maker went BANKRUPT.