Safety groups call for Senate to add 'commonsense improvements' before passing AV START Act

  (Photo: Shutterstock)

(Photo: Shutterstock)

Leaders from several different safety advocacy groups came together to ask the U.S. Senate to add safeguards to the AV START Act (S. 1885), a bill that addresses autonomous vehicles. They also urged senators to avoid attaching the bill to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act (S. 1405), which is expected to be voted on in the coming weeks.

The call came from 70 groups with focuses ranging from safety and public health to consumer and environmental causes. First responders and families affected by motor vehicle crashes also spoke out.

These groups signed a letter asking senators to avoid attaching the AV START Act to the FAA bill. The letter also suggests senators wait until the National Transportation Safety Board finishes investigations into multiple crashes involving AVs, including the fatal Uber crash in Arizona, before acting on the bill.

The letter asks senators to support the following “commonsense improvements:”

  • Limit the size and scope of exemptions from federal safety standards
  • Require minimum performance standards such as a “vision test” for driverless technologies, cybersecurity and electronics system protections, and distracted driving requirements when a human needs to take back control of a vehicle from a computer
  • Provide for adequate data collection and consumer information
  • Compel all AVs to capture detailed crash data in a format that will aid investigators such as the NTSB and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration
  • Ensure access and safety for members of all disability communities which have differing needs
  • Subject Level Two (partially-automated) vehicles to all safety critical provisions
  • Prohibit manufacturers from unilaterally “turning off” vehicle systems such as the steering wheel and gas pedal which is not allowed under current law
  • Maintain the right of states and localities to protect their citizens by regulating the AV system in absence of federal regulations
  • Provide NHTSA with sufficient resources and authorities
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“These changes would protect innovation while providing essential protections for AV occupants as well as everyone sharing the roads with them for many years to come,” the letter reads. “It would be egregious to push the AV START Act through by tacking it onto a must-pass bill. Doing so would circumvent the regular legislative process and cut it off from full debate, discussion, transparent consideration and the offering of amendments.”

The National Association of City Transportation Officials also sent a letter to senators opposing the AV START Act.

NACTO’s letter lists three main areas of concern with the bill: it preempts state and local regulations, it does not hold AVs to current vehicle safety standards and it contains no data-sharing requirements.

“The AV START Act revokes transportation leaders’ authority to manage traffic on city streets and lacks defined safety standards and data-sharing requirements,” the letter reads. “Without these key provisions, automated vehicles cannot realistically operate safely in multi-modal city contexts. While the concerns raised above remain unaddressed, NACTO stands firmly opposed to this bill.”

This push comes in light of a new ORC International poll, which reported that 69 percent of Americans surveyed said they were concerned about sharing the road with driverless cars. The poll was commissioned by Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety.

“While Advocates has always been on the forefront of supporting technologies to reduce the unacceptable motor vehicle death and injury toll, I am disappointed that we must oppose this bill unless critically-needed--and basic--safeguards are added,” Cathy Chase, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, said in a media release. “Numerous public opinion polls show people are fearful of AVs, and 70 organizations . . . are all urging the Senate to prioritize safety and make improvements to this bill.”

It is not yet clear when exactly the FAA Reauthorization Act will be voted on or if the AV START Act will be attached to that bill.

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