Center for Auto Safety Statement on Federal Framework for Driverless Vehicles

For Immediate Release
April 1, 2021
Contact: Jason Levine, [email protected] or 202-328-7700

Center for Auto Safety Statement on Federal Framework for Driverless Vehicles

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) role is not to express a passing interest in what may, or may not, be happening with respect to the potentially most transformational transportation technology since the invention of the internal combustion engine. NHTSA is statutorily charged with looking out for the safety of the 330 million individuals who live in the United States when it comes to passenger motor vehicles. With crash rates rising, deaths of pedestrians becoming a public health crisis, and motor vehicle crashes remaining the leading killer of individuals under 25 years of age, NHTSA must act. The appropriate role for the federal agency charged with maintaining the safety of vehicles on our roads is to set and enforce comprehensive objective safety standards.

In keeping with its mission statement, any NHTSA Framework for Automated Driving Systems (ADS) must save lives, prevent injuries, and reduce economic costs due to road traffic crashes. Further, by taking full advantage of the variety of tools NHTSA has at its disposal, the agency can move from its current role as a bystander to an active participant in shaping the future of transportation, both in the United States and around the world.  In order for vehicles to someday meet the lofty marketing claims of ADS manufacturers and proponents, who predict immense safety and societal benefits, the ADS framework must provide basic safety standards for ADS developers, while assuring that consumers have the tools to differentiate between protection and puffery. However, based on the current lack of oversight in the marketplace, if the Framework for ADS required a demonstration that ADS would do no harm by employing objective safety measures, that might be a realistic place to start. Yet, instead of aiming for the minimum, by using historical precedent and currently available research, NHTSA should establish measurable safety targets for the ADS manufacturing community to reach, resulting in a reduction of the public health crisis of car crash deaths on public roads.

The Center agrees with NHTSA that a properly structured regulatory Framework for ADS development will benefit the public by creating a pathway to utilize in commerce the most beneficial safety elements of the technology. Moreover, a properly conceived federal framework can benefit developers by accelerating engineering development and reducing financial risk exposure, thus incentivizing those actors who wish to play by the rules. The bedrock element of that Framework should be a safety requirement assuring that compliant vehicles will, as a minimum, do no harm to the public. Without such an assurance, the promise of ADS may not be realized. Such a standard does not prescribe or require a design solution and could be developed by NHTSA and required of ADS developers. Compliance by AV developers with appropriate FMVSS for the ADS class and confirmation by third party review at certification intervals would assure public safety and preserve developer design freedom and versatility.

Our country, and world, stand on the precipice of a revolutionary moment in transportation history. The rest of the world is moving ahead with common sense regulations and requirements for ADS, while US industry lags behind. NHTSA’s inaction is forcing U.S. auto industry to back the desperate gamble that its scattershot approach to ADS development will overtake international coordinated developments. NHTSA should embrace the moment and enable the U.S. to regain the lead by asserting its role for promoting ADS safety standards and regulations, ensuring the safety of ADS-equipped vehicles on public roads for all drivers, passengers, and pedestrians. In order to reach that goal, NHTSA must start by requiring the submission of uniform, useful safety and technical information from everyone testing this technology on public roads, while it develops safety standards. Regulatory agencies are established and funded to protect the public, not merely cheerlead for industry. At a minimum, the public deserves the information to understand what is happening in our communities until regulations have been promulgated and public confidence has surged.

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