“Robot car advocates are putting a glitzy spin on their ‘autonomous’ technologies,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “The fact is that while some emerging technologies may promote safety, self-driving robot cars are not remotely ready for deployment on public highways without a steering wheel and pedals so a human driver can intervene when necessary.”
Regulators appear to be emphasizing safety as they develop regulations and policies covering autonomous vehicles, Consumer Watchdog said. The nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group urged them to continue a deliberate approach that emphasizes safety and not yield to corporate pressure.
Currently California has regulations covering testing robot cars on the state’s highways, which require a driver behind a steering wheel capable of taking control. Last month the DMV issued draft regulations for the general use of robot cars on the state’s roads that will also require a driver behind the wheel capable of taking control.
Google, which is testing 53 robot cars in California and Texas, said it was “gravely disappointed” and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the “draft regulations may prove too onerous, create road blocks to innovation, and may ultimately drive the development of this promising industry to other states.”
“It’s imperative the DMV continue to put public safety first, and not cave to corporate and political pressure,” said Simpson. The department will hold public workshops to discuss the draft rules on Jan. 28 in Sacramento and on Feb. 2 in Los Angeles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is also pledging to emphasize safety as it updates its two-and-a-half year old policy paper on automated vehicles. Secretary Anthony Foxx called for the update last month prompting Consumer Watchdog to warn NHTSA, “Do not put the interests of the robot car developers ahead of the public’s safety in the face of ongoing pressure from self-driving robot car manufacturers like Google, which has promised a vehicle without a steering wheel or brake pedal.”
“Your cautionary remarks are well taken,” responded Nathaniel Beuse, NHTSA Associate Administrator for Vehicle Safety Research in a letter. “Safety is and will be NHTSA’s top-priority.”
Eleven companies – Volkswagen Group of America, Mercedes Benz, Google, Delphi Automotive, Tesla Motors, Bosch, Nissan, Cruise Automation, BMW, Honda and Ford – are approved to test robot cars on California roads.