U.S. Must Lead on Safety in Race to Develop Self-Driving Vehicles
The House of Representatives’ Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Innovation, Data, and Commerce has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday, July 26, 2023, at 10:30 a.m. (E.T.) on “Self-Driving Vehicle Legislative Framework: Enhancing Safety, Improving Lives and Mobility, and Beating China.”
The hearing will consider two bills that contemplate a framework for federal regulation of automated vehicles in the United States. One is spearheaded by Rep. Bob Latta (R-Ohio), and is called the Safely Ensuring Lives Future Deployment and Research In Vehicle Evolution Act or SELF DRIVE Act. In 2020, the League worked with other organizations to oppose a previous bill with the same name. The other is spearheaded by Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Michigan), and is a discussion draft. Neither currently contains a specific “vision test” that ensures that federal regulators address how an automated vehicle would detect, identify and safely respond to a person on a bike.
The League of American Bicyclists is a staunch advocate for a “vision test” for automated vehicles as part of any federal regulatory framework. For the League, a “vision test” is not about prescribing a particular technology solution, but about ensuring that any automated driving system is tested for its ability to detect, identify, and safely respond to people outside of a vehicle driven by an automated driving system.
The League’s guidelines for interactions between AVs and people on bikes, an effort endorsed by leading automated vehicle developers Cruise and Waymo, only work if the automated driving system has the ability to detect and identify people on bikes. Interaction guidelines are all about how the automated driving system safely responds in a situation, after the person biking has been detected and identified.
The League believes Congress must specify that bicyclist safety be included in an automated vehicle framework. Given the record of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), we cannot assume that bicyclist safety will be included without a specific directive from Congress. Even where Congress has told NHTSA “to establish a means for providing to consumers information relating to pedestrian, bicyclist, or other vulnerable road user safety technologies,” we have seen NHTSA refuse to take timely action that includes bicyclists.
For those who argue that a federal automated vehicle framework is necessary to beat China in the development of AV technology, it is unlikely that the world will accept unsafe AV technology. Beating China means leading on safety and establishing consumer trust in AV technology that so far is lacking. Strong safety standards, including a vision test for vulnerable road users, are key to ensuring that AV development in the United States is AV development that can be exported and will be subsequently adopted worldwide. Leadership isn’t simply being first out of the gate, leadership is deploying the safest and best technology in the world. Attempting to lead through lax safety standards will ensure that U.S. companies’ success remains only in the US, potentially at the cost of American lives.