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The League joins others to tell Congress to put safety first for automated vehicles

Most days, you can find the League doing meetings on Capitol Hill. Typically, we’re doing one-on-one meetings, but today, I was joined by experts from Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the Center for Auto Safety, the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund, Transportation for America, and the New York City Department of Transportation to for a congressional briefing for staffers on how automated vehicles can make Americans safer.

Cathy Chase from Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety moderated the panel, a coalition of groups the League has worked with over the last year. Throughout, the coalition has focused on making sure future legislation builds a proactive vision for the role of automated vehicles in addressing transportation issues. We have called for an emphasis on safety, accessibility for all people, local control of streets, consumer protections, data sharing, research, and improvements at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

Michael Replogle from the New York City Department of Transportation spoke to the need for cities to retain control over their streets to ensure that traffic laws are followed by automated vehicles. While the technology exists for vehicles to detect speed limits, and the European Union has issued a directive that all vehicles will be equipped with Intelligent Speed Assistance technology by 2022, the United States has not been similarly proactive. Congress must allow for appropriate local control and partnership with local agencies, like New York, that have been at the forefront of lowering speeds and pursuing Vision Zero.

Scott Goldstein from Transportation for America spoke about the pedestrian safety crisis in America where too many communities are dangerous by design. As automated vehicles have been tested, they too have been shown to be dangerous by design. In the case of the automated Uber that killed Elaine Herzberg, the National Transportation Safety Board found Uber did not have a formal safety plan or a guiding document for safety. Congress must require safety reporting, including appropriate data sharing, so that the public knows automated vehicles are not dangerous by design.

Jason Levine from the Center for Auto Safety spoke to the need for NHTSA to have the resources and authorities needed to fulfill its mission in the face of sophisticated and complex automated vehicle technology. Without appropriate testing, standards, and oversight, automated vehicles will struggle to be accepted by consumers and may risk consumer rejection due to crashes. In a recent Deloitte survey, 48% of U.S. consumers said they believe fully autonomous cars will be unsafe. Congress must act to assure consumers that automated vehicles are safe through robust NHTSA oversight and consumer protections.

Carol Tyson from the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund focused our attention on the need for accessibility in our transportation system and in automated vehicles, if they are to achieve their promised mobility improvements. While draft legislative language provides some incentives for accessible AVs, there is a need to have accessibility as a core value throughout our transportation system. Without accessible automated vehicles, particularly if they are operated in robo-taxi fleets, people with disabilities will face a segregated transportation system, with higher prices and limited availability. Congress must ensure that automated vehicles are accessible to everyone, across the broad spectrum of disability, as part of creating an accessible transportation system.

In my remarks, I called attention to what got me interested in automated vehicles several years ago – the promise that biking can be safer, less stressful, and free of conflict. As I have engaged with these issues, I have found that the United States, at seemingly every turn, chooses to leave people biking and walking out of conversations about safer vehicles. While other countries create pedestrian and bicycle safety standards, the United States does not. Congress must show leadership for the safety of all people and make sure that automated vehicles are tested for the safety of people outside of them as well as inside.

Too often regulations and public policy are offered as impediments to the deployment of automated vehicles. In the briefing today, each group and speaker shared how Congress can show leadership, improve deployment, and build consumer trust through thoughtful and pro-active regulations. The “wait and see” approach to automated vehicles is not enough and this transformative technology deserves transformative public policy.