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Consumer Reports: Self-driving cars bill in Congress still falls short on safety

As car and tech companies press Congress to approve a bill to speed up the introduction of self-driving cars, Consumer Reports says the bill still falls short of ensuring that these vehicles will be safe for consumers.

Senators have shared draft revisions to the bill—known as the AV START Act—in a last-minute push to win approval as lawmakers prepare to adjourn for the year.

David Friedman, the vice president of advocacy for Consumer Reports and former interim head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), said, “Companies are trying to rush this bill through Congress, but there is no clear need for speed. These changes still do not provide the safeguards we need to make sure self-driving cars will be safe, despite some improvements that have been made in the bill.

Friedman said senators have added language to require companies to provide more data about the safety and testing of self-driving vehicles, and they have tightened some loopholes that would have allowed companies to shut off vehicle safety systems. However, the bill remains deeply flawed because it would permit companies to put thousands, and possibly millions, of vehicles on the road before they are demonstrated to be safe, he said.

For self-driving cars to succeed, Congress should take the time it needs to draft legislation that provides meaningful protections—even if that means continuing its work into the new year, he said.

Self-driving cars could lead to safer roads and more options for people who can’t drive, but that potential will never be fulfilled until we have common-sense standards for safety. Surveys show that most consumers are already skeptical. If this bill becomes law as written, it could actually set the technology back for years, because the lack of standards could lead to more injuries and deaths, and that would further erode public trust.

—David Friedman

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