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Consumer Watchdog urges California DMV to prohibit autonomous vehicles without human driver until NHTSA safety standards are enforceable

Consumer Watchdog urged the California Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to prohibit autonomous vehicles without a human driver capable of taking control until the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) enacts enforceable standards covering safety performance.

Consumer Watchdog notes that NHTSA’s proposed voluntary safety checklist contains no enforceable standards. The proposed DMV rules would require manufacturers to submit that federal checklist before testing or deploying robot cars. Consumer Watchdog testified that the checklist is inadequate to protect public safety on the roads, and that DMV must therefore prohibit driverless cars until enforceable Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards are in place.

The proposed DMV rules would let robot cars without a driver on our roads if the manufacturer simply answers Yes, No or Maybe to each point on NHTSA’s 15-point safety checklist. Absolutely no safety performance standards are required. We need more than a safety checklist written on toilet paper before we are sure driverless vehicles are safe to operate on public roads in California. That’s why we’re calling on the DMV to hold until federal regulators enact enforceable safety standards for driverless cars.

—Carmen Balber, executive director of Consumer Watchdog

The nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group applauded provisions of the DMVs new proposed autonomous vehicle regulations that would protect consumer privacy and limit advertising in vehicles using automated technology. The regulations were the subject of a public workshop Wednesday in Sacramento, at which NHTSA regulators testified.

The proposed DMV regulations offer consumers important privacy protections, said Consumer Watchdog. The rules would require that a manufacturer disclose how any information gathered by the vehicle would be used for purposes other than navigating the car, and require that consumers give consent to additional data collection. Use of the car could not be contingent on consumer consent.

The regulation’s advertising provision would prohibit manufacturers of cars that use only some automated technologies from advertising their vehicles in a way that would leave the impression that a car is fully autonomous when it is not. The regulation specifically cites “self-driving,” “automated,” and “auto-pilot” as cause for concern.

Current California DMV regulations cover the testing of autonomous vehicles in California and require a licensed test driver who can take control when the robot technology fails. Another key requirement of that regulation is that manufactures report all crashes involving their robot cars. They must submit an annual “disengagement” report detailing all the times that the autonomous technology failed. Google, for example, reported its technology failed 341 times. There were 272 times that the software turned over control to the driver and 69 times when the driver felt compelled to override the robot system.

Consumer Watchdog said the regulations should be tweaked to require disengagement reports on a quarterly basis and that video and technical data associated with any crash should be made public. Police should investigate all crashes.

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