Center for Auto Safety Calls on NHTSA to Reject GM and Nuro Exemptions from Federal Safety Standards

May 20, 2019
For Immediate Release
Contact: Michael Brooks, mbrooks@autosafety.org,  202-328-7700.

CENTER FOR AUTO SAFETY CALLS ON NATIONAL HIGHWAY TRAFFIC SAFETY ADMINISTRATION TO REJECT REQUESTS BY GENERAL MOTORS AND NURO TO BE EXEMPTED FROM FEDERAL SAFETY RULES IN ORDER TO DEPLOY UNPROVEN AUTONOMOUS VEHICLE TECHNOLOGY

Today, the Center for Auto Safety (“the Center”) submitted comments to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) in response to petitions from General Motors (“GM”) and Nuro, Inc. (“Nuro”) requesting temporary exemptions from certain Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (“FMVSS”), such as those requiring brake pedals or steering wheels, to allow for the deployment of such vehicles on public roads. The Center’s comments recommend the petitions be rejected both due to deep safety concerns since the petitions failed to document how public safety would be assured and because NHTSA failed to follow its own notice and comment procedure. The Center, founded in 1970, is a member supported, independent, non-profit consumer advocacy organization dedicated to improving vehicle safety, quality, and fuel economy.

“NHTSA must deny GM and Nuro’s petitions as both fail to address the safety concerns that may arise as a result of the requested exemptions. Since the Center’s founding in 1970 we have supported the introduction of effective advanced safety technology in both consumer and commercial vehicles. In fact, the Center has long advocated for mandating proven safety technology often over the objections of manufacturers who preferred to keep such safety devices as premium or luxury features available only as options on their vehicles,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

“Yet, built into the proposition of such advancements in vehicle technology is a need to demonstrate its safety and functionality before using unsuspecting motorists or pedestrians as guinea pigs. Public roads should not be proving grounds any more than they should be the site of unannounced NASCAR races. The Center is hopeful that manufacturers, including GM and Nuro, will achieve the promises of their marketing departments regarding driverless vehicle technology. Simultaneously, the Center remains firm in supporting mandatory performance standards to avoid unintended consequences from unmanned vehicles dependent upon unproven technology,” said Levine.

On October 19, 2018, the Center petitioned NHTSA to immediately mandate the submission of safety information by companies testing automated vehicles system technology on public roads. Seven months later, and three months past NHTSA’s own published deadlines, the agency has yet to respond. Therefore, there is no uniform data collection process that addresses the scope of public testing and the success, failures, and lessons learned from the testing that continues to happen every day across the United States. By failing to act, NHTSA has missed a golden opportunity to create a fact-specific baseline from which to consider petitions such as those submitted by GM and Nuro.

The Center also takes issue with the process NHTSA has used to evaluate the GM and Nuro comments. In December, NHTSA acted unlawfully by crafting a new temporary exemption process that skirts long-standing notice and comment requirements, thus creating the potential for an incomplete petition. The Center’s comments call for the review of both petitions to be suspended until NHTSA conforms with the law.

Levine stated: “NHTSA’s unlawful issuance of a new temporary exemption rule at the same time as it considers the first applications on autonomous vehicle exemptions from the FMVSS is more than just poor planning. It suggests a bias against public participation in rulemakings and towards expedited approvals for manufacturers who have not performed the work required to demonstrate that their vehicles can be trusted on American roads.”

The Center’s comments detailed the many deficiencies in both petitions, however the GM petition contained many of the most concerning failures, including:

  • The petition fails to establish that the requested exemptions, if granted, would assure the GM vehicle will provide an equivalent or greater level of safety than human-driven vehicles certified as meeting federal safety standards.
  • The petition fails to establish criteria that would allow GM to make an objective showing of operational safety during autonomous use.
  • The limits on operation of the GM vehicle provided in the petition suggest that the vehicle will intentionally avoid situations that would provide for a meaningful data set to prove operational safety.
  • The petition fails to establish whether vehicle occupants will be alerted to potentially dangerous conditions or if occupants will have the ability to discontinue operation.
  • The petition fails to establish that the GM sensor system provides a level of coverage sufficient to protect various categories of vulnerable road users, including pedestrians, cyclists, and other vehicles.
  • The petition fails to establish the GM vehicle is capable of following traffic laws. 

“The path to the successful introduction of autonomous vehicle technology in the consumer marketplace must be paved with objective, measurable, repeatable safety demonstrations – in simulation, on test tracks, and in controlled environments. The risks of failure on this journey are not only to the people who will be in danger from unproven and unregulated vehicles, but to future generations who may never realize the safety potential for autonomous technology because of a rush to achieve arbitrary Wall Street driven milestones. The time is now for NHTSA to act in the interest of the public instead of the well-connected few,” Levine said.  

The Center’s GM Comment can be found HERE.

The Center’s NURO Comment can be found HERE.

The Center’s Petition to mandate Safety Assessment Letters can be found HERE.

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Over the last 49 years, the Center for Auto Safety has successfully led the fight for lemon laws in every state, airbags in every vehicle, and recall repairs being made at no cost to the consumer. The Center is a membership-driven organization headquartered in Washington, DC and is also home to the Safe Climate Campaign which fights global warming by working for big, specific measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The Center publishes The Car Book, which has for the last 39 years been America’s most comprehensive car buying guide and now offers, exclusively for members, the monthly Safety Tune-Up Report, for regular alerts on safety issues relating to their cars. To learn more about the Center, please visit www.AutoSafety.org.