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NHTSA To Hold Public Meetings On Robot Cars After Consumer Groups Call For Open Process

The National Highway Traffic Safety Adminsitration (NHTSA) says it will hold public meetings about self-driving robot car technologies after a coalition of consumer groups sent a letter to Transportation Secretary  Anthony Foxx and NHTSA Adminsitration Mark Rosekind calling for public involvement as new polices are developed.

“Your suggestions fit well with our efforts to fulfill the agency’s goals,” Rosekind responded in a letter to me dated March 15.  “We are enhancing our public engagement strategy and will announce specific details in the coming weeks.”

Consumer Watchdog, Consumers Union, the Center for Auto Safety, Consumers for Auto Reliability and Safety, and former NHTSA Administrator and Public Citizen President Emeritus Joan Claybrook called for NHTSA “to commit to maximum transparency and public involvement” in a March 3 letter.

A week later NHTSA  announced plans for a day-long meeting on robot cars on April 8 in Washington, DC, and said second will follow in California, though the date and location haven’t been announced yet.

Although top federal regulators sometimes appear to be dazzled by self-driving robot car technology, Rosekind made a point of stressing NHTSA’s commitment to safety in his letter to me.

“We are encouraged by the potential of automated vehicle technologies to dramatically improve roadway safety. Nevertheless, your cautionary remarks are well received,”  he wrote. “The Department wants to enable the development and deployment of any technology that has the proven potential to save lives and make America’s roads safer.  Our responsibility is to make sure these lifesaving automated functions are feasible and safe.  Safety is always NHTSA’s top priority.”

Rosekind can demonstrate the commitment is real, and not just empty words, by strongly backing the California DMV’s  proposed autonomous vehicle regulations that would require a licensed driver behind a steering wheel and brake pedal capable of taking control when the robot car technology fails.

It’s good that NHTSA has called the public meetings, but there is still one problem that must be pointed out.  In order to register to speak, you have to use Google Forms.  The Internet giant is everywhere.