“The industry would be “in complete control when it comes to consumer safety in autonomous vehicles,” complained Michael Brooks, chief counsel for the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, in a recent conference call with reporters. “As history has proven time and time over, automakers are incapable of prioritizing safety over profits,” Brooks said, “and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is an unwilling regulator.”
Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board inspecting the Uber driverless test vehicle that in March killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, as she was walking her bike across a road.
Consumer advocates are attacking a bill heading for a vote soon in the U.S. Senate that would clear legal obstacles for the deployment of driverless cars — a proposal that, critics say, lacks safeguards needed to protect the public and largely would let vehicle manufacturers regulate themselves.
The measure, which is being pushed by auto and tech industry lobbyists, is called the AV START Act, standing for “American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies.”
It would bar states and localities from setting safety rules for driverless cars, even though there are no federal regulations nor any requirement for regulations to be adopted in the future. Only nonbinding guidelines are in place. Over the next few years, the bill also would allow hundreds of thousands of driverless vehicles to be exempt from existing federal standards for conventional cars and trucks, such as requirements for steering wheels and pedals.
A similar measure, called the SELF DRIVE ACT, already has been approved by the House of Representatives.
Champions of driverless cars say they would improve mobility for disabled people and save lives by eliminating human errors that are the cause of most crashes. Yet consumer advocates and experts argue that driverless transportation is still far from the bare minimum of being as safe as the flawed human drivers it is meant to replace.