Why the League is Opposed to the AV START Act
Information on AV START
The Senate is planning on voting on the AV START Act before the end of the year. The League opposes the bill because it doesn’t include serious safety protections for bicyclists and pedestrians.
The AV START Act (S. 1885: The American Vision for Safer Transportation through Advancement of Revolutionary Technologies Act) creates an interim framework for autonomous vehicles while they are still being tested and the technology is evolving. The goal of the legislation is to create a consistent framework instead of having each state set their own. Overall, the League agrees with that goal, but this Legislation does not do enough to protect the safety of all road users, including bicyclists, pedestrians, wheelchair users, and others.
The AV START Act will drastically increase the number of vehicles on our streets which are exempted from federal safety standards. Currently, each manufacturer of autonomous vehicles is allowed 2,500 exemptions. The AV START Act will allow each manufacturer to sell 80,000 vehicles by year three. (There were 19 manufacturers testing cars in California last year.) Under AV START these exemptions, which must evaluate new and complex technology to determine if it provides equivalent safety to existing vehicles, must be ruled on within 180 days, including public comment. In addition, the bill will allow manufacturers to make steering wheels, brakes, and other safety systems inoperative in autonomous mode without any government review and approval.
The bill does not include a ‘vision test’ to prove these self -driving cars can both detect, recognize, and respond to bicyclists and pedestrians. The bill does require manufacturers to describe their process for testing their vehicles for the “avoidance of unreasonable risks to safety, including … sense of objects, motorcyclists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and animals in or crossing the path of travel” in a safety report. However, reviewing officials at the National Highway Traffic Safety Agency (NHTSA) can only review those safety reports for completeness and truthfulness. Those safety reports CANNOT be used to deny an exemption from safety regulations and it is possible that the topics described in those safety reports NEVER lead to safety standards.
The League’s Stance
The League believes that highly automated vehicles have the potential to make our roads safer for everyone by reducing distracted driving and speeding, and facilitating better multimodal transportation networks. There are also technologies available now, such as Automated Emergency Braking, that could substantially improve safety without the need for AV START.
The League wants a ‘vision test’ requiring manufacturers to prove the ability of autonomous vehicles to accurately detect, recognize, anticipate, and respond to the movements of all road users, including bicyclists. Congress should put safety first by starting the process of developing new safety standards now, rather than putting that development off into the future after potentially hundreds of thousands of highly automated vehicles are on our roads.
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