Center for Auto Safety Pushes NHTSA to Write New Rules Instead of Revising Existing Standards to Accommodate Driverless Vehicles

For Immediate Release
August 28, 2019
Contact: Jason Levine, jlevine@autosafety.org or 202-328-7700

Center for Auto Safety Pushes NHTSA to Write New Rules Instead of Revising Existing Standards to Accommodate Driverless Vehicles

Submits Comments on Proposed Rulemaking Challenging Deregulatory Approach to Vehicles Lacking Manual Controls

The Center for Auto Safety has long been a supporter of requiring the use of proven advanced safety technology to improve the safety of all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians.  Accordingly, today we have submitted comments strongly questioning NHTSA’s choice in an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking to prioritize a potential rollback of important protections afforded by the current Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), in order to accommodate the introduction of vehicle technology that is in its infancy and quite likely decades away from widespread practical utility. Unfortunately, NHTSA continues to propagate the theory that current FMVSS stand in the way of a safer future ushered in by autonomous vehicles without manual controls. Any truth to this idea is due to NHTSA being unwilling to conduct research and issue rulemakings, even administrative ones such as electronic notification of recalls or whistleblower protections, in a timely manner.

There is simply no demonstrable evidence that vehicles lacking manual controls can safely operate on (and off) America’s roads, yet NHTSA is entertaining the idea of changing safety standards to accommodate such vehicles.  A more safety-focused course of action would be to immediately work to write mandatory performance standards for existing advanced safety features, such as automatic emergency braking. Accordingly, the Center’s comment requested NHTSA reconsider its current insistence on prioritizing the evaluation and potential truncating of current safety standards for the service of commercial entities instead of public needs. 

Further, we continue to find specious the assertion that current law obstructs the future development and testing of this technology. Amazingly, federal law allows unlimited testing of such vehicles. NHTSA regulations allow for a manufacturer to request an exemption allowing up to 2,500 vehicles which fail to comply with FMVSS to be sold to the general public, presuming the application shows an equivalent level of safety in the exempted vehicle.  

If NHTSA truly believes vehicles that will lack human controls are years, (as opposed to decades) away from commercial viability, now is the time to begin evaluating what new standards will be required to address critical issues posed by these vehicles. This would be a more preferable and safety-directed course than attempting to insert the square peg of driverless vehicles into the round hole of safety standards designed for the vehicles of today. These standards were not written for vehicles without steering wheels, brake pedals, gear selectors, or a human in control, but they were written to assure the safety of human occupants.   

Although NHTSA’s original AV policy contemplated new safety standards applicable to highly automated vehicles, in this ANPRM the agency is now holding fast to the unproven notion that current safety standards must be changed in order to allow for autonomous vehicle operation. In fact, DOT and NHTSA’s stubborn insistence on chipping away at the FMVSS, and refusal to consider issuing new regulations to cover a new class of vehicles, is based on a predetermined notion these regulations present a “barrier.” 

In fact, it is the Department of Transportation’s insistence on deregulation as the answer to all questions that is the real barrier to a roadway to safer vehicles. 

Read the Center’s Comments on NHTSA’s Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: “Removing Regulatory Barriers for Vehicles With Automated Driving Systems.”

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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 TheCarBook.com, 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.