Congress Can’t Let Self-Driving Car Makers Treat People as Guinea Pigs, Say Public Safety Watchdogs

AV crash

A bill in Congress to allow large numbers of self-driving cars on American streets needs substantial revisions to protect people inside and outside of autonomous vehicles, says a coalition of consumer and public safety organizations.

The legislation, known as AV-START, would preempt existing motor vehicle safety regulations at all levels of government with a new federal standard for assessing each model of autonomous vehicle. AV manufacturers would each be able to put 100,000 vehicles on public streets within three years of the bill’s passage.

While acknowledging that self-driving cars have the potential to be safer than human drivers, advocates say the bill lacks necessary protections to guarantee the vehicles are as safe as they should be. William Wallace, policy analyst for Consumers Union, has said the bill would let AV manufacturers treat people as “guinea pigs.”

An Uber car in self-driving mode killed Elaine Herzberg, who was walking her bicycle across the street, in Tempe this March. The crash raised questions about the adequacy of AV technology to detect and avoid pedestrians and cyclists.

The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating that crash, and advocates are pressing the Senate to pause the AV-START bill until the agency has released its conclusions. Dozens of organizations, including the American Public Health Association, the Emergency Nurses Association, Consumer Federation of America, and several bicycle advocacy groups, have signed on [PDF].

Their letter also lays out several revisions to the AV-START bill to protect public safety, including:

  • Requiring a “vision test” each AV model proving it can detect distant objects, including pedestrians.
  • Rules against “distracted driving” for back-up safety drivers. (The back-up driver in Herzberg’s death was not looking at the road immediately prior to the collision.)
  • Mandatory disclosure by AV companies of crash data they compile.
  • Reducing the number and scope of existing federal safety standards AVs are exempt from.
  • Allowing state safety regulations to apply to AVs.

Unlike in the House, AV START has met some resistance in the Senate. However, consumer groups warn the legislation could be attached to an aviation bill coming up for consideration in the next few weeks.

Automotive News reports that AV lobbyists have been targeting five senators who have yet to sign on to the bill, led by California’s Dianne Feinstein.

25 thoughts on Congress Can’t Let Self-Driving Car Makers Treat People as Guinea Pigs, Say Public Safety Watchdogs

  1. Whoa! Rule number one: They need to be required to obey the speed limit!

    (The companies testing in Boston Seaport district are doing this voluntarily to comply with our Vision Zero policy).

  2. It’s not easy to accept the face a new technology is supplanting the old. Especially in government they’re a swarm of antiquated devices (1/3 computers still use Windows XP). But private operations are able to either wind down or change. IBM went from typewriters to computers to software. The transit industry in the US still feels entitled to 50 Billion dollars a year in subsidies. Instead of caving to the political demands; elected officials need to encourage transit agencies to begin the orderly phase out.
    – Stop building rail transit in low density cities, buses made them obsolete nearly 100 years ago.
    – Replace their worn out rail lines with buses rather than burrow BILLIONS to refurbish something that’ll take years to repair or probably never be repaired.
    – Transit agencies should make Priority of paying down their debts and pension and healthcare obligations immediately. Agencies should not saddle future taxpayers with debts. Especially when there’s a real chance their services will be replaced very shortly.
    Whether it’s 2030 or 2040, the tech is real and transit ridership is down nationwide another 5.9% in 2018. Because transit agencies have become political players and subsidy grubbers rather than providers of transportation. Outside New York and maybe a couple urban areas, Transit will be extinct in it’s current form by 2030. Which leaves behind a burden of debt and public obligations the taxpayers are obliged to pay for.

  3. Are all speed limits designed for the weaknesses of humans appropriate for machines once they can demonstrate superior perception and reaction times?

  4. Yup, we totally won’t need transit anymore, we’ll just put all those people in separate vehicles on the street. That will totally work.

  5. huh? there are so many things wrong with this. who says transit will be extinct? you? who is “burrow”ing billions for rapid transit in low density cities? i can’t even think of a “low density” city with light rail. nobody is replacing transit with autonomous cars. do you know why? because autonomous cars take up exactly the same amount of space as… cars.

  6. I’ll compromise with you. I’m all for next-gen tech and I expect that trackless trains will be a hot topic soon enough in the Americas. But the advent of trackless trains hasn’t slowed China from building new high speed rail and subways.

    While I think you’re a generation behind the times, by accident you’ve got some things correct.

  7. Just what we (don’t) need: more unnecessary Nanny State regs to slow down the pace of tech advancement. I get scared we’ll lose our tech advantage when too many fear the future. Methinks this is more to protect those with entrenched profit machines, not the best interests of ‘the people.’

  8. If you’re talking about rubber tyre metro than possibly. But again it’s still inferior to automotive tech. Anything you can do with a train you can do with a bus. We’ve deferred nearly 100 billion dollars in critical maintenance towards rail systems across the US for…… rails out into suburban annexes, aesthetics and sprucing up old stations and generous care packages for transit unions.
    The people that look to rail transit instead of cars/buses are just like the
    people who think the Earth is flat. There are three different types.

    – The Naive: Who simply don’t know enough about a subject; particularly
    the technical or economic factor, their opinions are motivated often my
    the two below and seldom encounter opinions of wavering notion. These
    are the people whose minds can be changed or at least compromised.

    – The Religious: Those who’re motivated by a principal force that is
    deemed morally superior; cannot be convinced otherwise regardless of
    evidence. This motivation is often humanitarian or environmental in

    – The just plain crazy: These people have for lack of a better word have
    very little social interaction skills; thus are ill equipped to
    influence in a manner eloquent as the Religious; whose skills are
    better. The subset however continue on their way to simply push the
    status quo, whether they believe in it or otherwise often because of a
    accolade or compensation involved; short answer, it’s their job.

    In transits case the three apply.

    1: The naive; They’re…………you or essentially average folks; you really
    think you can sit them down and give them a lengthy lecture about the
    ….efficacy of transit; it’s merit’s it’s underpinnings, etc. Give a ten
    page financial dossier about buses versus trains and light rails versus
    heavy rails.

    2: The religious…… Consist of two groups; one are the environmentalists
    who look to automobiles with disdain and favor collectivist transit
    approaches as an ecologically/energy efficient means. The other include
    the civic minded; who milk the moral fortitude angle. Transit for all is
    transportation for all; HOW Can you put a price on transportation for
    the needy (The poor, the elderly, handicapped, children; the BIG FOUR
    transit is aimed to serve)

    3: Finally the just plain nuts. The politically inclined who have
    essentially manipulated the people in power to serve the demands they
    set forth; even if it’s unnecessary; i.e. it’s their job to push for spending on rail transit. The fortification of special
    interest groups regardless is their intended mission: i.e. whether or not providing
    transportation service is met or otherwise. Like I said before transit
    agencies have gone on some bizarre mission to get higher income people
    out of their cars; because assuming they’re big spenders? Transit
    agencies have enormous public funding shortages and like most agencies
    in government, worker financial obligations are on a defined benefit
    package which based on projections is insufficient to met. The governor or mayor who signed this legislation is gonna be out of office by the time financial burden or bust becomes noticeable or problematic. Remember they finance elections off contributions from these public groups. Rather than
    pay down their pension and healthcare obligations; they embark on more
    grandiose spending projects. Living by the philosophy “Spend money to
    make money” Sadly these endeavors will not meet the cost obligations but
    will only serve to bankrupt municipalities and worse saddle Taxpayers
    with future debts which is…….Nuts.

  9. Anything you can do with a train you can do with a bus.

    Except get people to ride the damn thing.

  10. One person dies when the computer fails vs thousands daily when the human fails/purposely kills. I’ll take my chances with HAL.

  11. lol, speaking of mindless… nice to see you Dyer; I always enjoy your non-responsive, non-substantive blather.

  12. the burrowing bus is the new straddling bus–remember when we were supposed to tear up all our trackage for that?

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