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Consumer Watchdog Calls on California Representatives to Oppose Congressional Robot Car Legislation That Would Undermine California’s Safety Protections on Testing Self-Driving Cars

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John M. Simpson

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today called on California’s seven members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee to block proposed federal legislation that would undo California’s ground-breaking safety regulations covering the testing of autonomous vehicles.

The House bill is being considered today the Subcommittee on Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection.  It would prevent states from enacting any regulations covering the safety of autonomous vehicles, even though the federal government has enacted no safety standards for self-driving cars. It also threatens to pre-empt insurance, licensing, liability and other areas that have been the purview of states.

“Pre-empting the states’ ability to fill the void left by federal inaction leaves us at the mercy of manufacturers as they use our public highways as their private laboratories however they wish with no safety protections at all,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “With robot cars – as in so many areas -- California has taken the lead in protecting consumers from unproven technologies; California’s Representatives have a duty to safeguard those protections.”  

California’s members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee include: Mimi Waters, (R-45), Anna Eshoo (D-18), Doris Matsui (D-6), John McNerney (D-9), Tony Cardenas (D-29), Raul Ruiz (D-36) and Scott Peters (D-52)

View the proposed legislation here: https://energycommerce.house.gov/hearings-and-votes/markups/subcommittee-vote-hr-staff-draft-highly-automated-vehicle-testing-and

California’s autonomous vehicle testing regulations, which have set a standard for the nation, require that self-driving cars being tested have a steering wheel and pedals so a test driver can take control of the robot car. The rules also require public reports of any crashes be filed as well as annual “disengagement reports” detailing when the autonomous technology failed. 

The regulations, enacted by the Department of Motor Vehicles, have not hindered innovation, Simpson said, noting that 36 companies have obtained permits to test in the state.

The nonprofit nonpartisan public interest group stressed that regulations covering jurisdiction over licensing; enacting and enforcing traffic laws and regulations; and regulating vehicle insurance and liability must remain with the states.

“Lost in the hyperbole over robot cars is a realistic assessment of the likely costs to both consumers and taxpayers particularly over the coming decades, when robot cars and human drivers will share a ‘hybrid highway,’ said Simpson.

Consumer Watchdog also called on Congress to increase funding for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration so it has the resources necessary to enact safety performance standards and regulate self-driving robot cars.

Consumer Watchdog earlier gave written testimony to the Subcommittee. Read it here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/househavstatement062717.pdf

Consumer Watchdog’s has also released an in-depth study, “Self-Driving Vehicles: The Threat to Consumers.”  Read the report here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/sites/default/files/resources/self_driving_consumer_threat_report.pdf

View the earlier Subcommittee hearing here: https://energycommerce.house.gov/hearings-and-votes/hearings/self-driving-vehicle-legislation

Consumer Watchdog noted that if the federal government finally enacts Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FVMSS) covering autonomous vehicles, they will under current law pre-empt state safety regulations. 

“There will be no ‘patch-work’ of competing and possibly contradictory regulations that some warn about,” said Simpson. “NHTSA just needs to do its job and protect the public’s safety,” said Simpson.

 

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