Consumer Group Wants Brakes Put On Rules For Self Driving Cars

A consumer advocacy group is asking the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to slow down, following NHTSA’s announcement that it will be updating its policy on self driving cars.

John M. Simpson, the privacy project director for advocacy group Consumer Watchdog, addressed the issue in a letter to Secretary of the Department of Transportation Anthony Foxx and NHTSA Administrator Mark R. Rosekind. Consumer Watchdog is a nonprofit that promotes numerous taxpayer and consumer initiatives, such as auto insurance premiums and gasoline prices.

In his letter, Simpson specifically names Google and its self-driving car as an example of why extra caution is warranted to develop the new policy.

“Google may want to put the pedal to the metal as it rushes robot cars out the door, but a thoughtful, deliberate approach to regulations is required,” Simpson wrote. “We have closely monitored self-driving robot car testing in our state and there is nothing yet to suggest that the vehicles are ready for safe operation by the general public. Nor is there adequate information to suggest that test vehicles should be allowed to operate on public roads without a driver capable of taking control from the autonomous technology when needed.”

“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,” he added.

The car Simpson is referring to is Google’s self-driving prototype, pictured above. Engineers have deleted the steering wheel and the brake pedal on the concept, setting it up to operate as a fully automated vehicle. However, Google has also said that the final version of its first car will likely retain driver controls, including the steering wheel.

“I don’t think we’re going to see [a world with] no human drivers anytime soon,” Google co-founder Sergey Brin said in September. “And I think there’s always going to be pleasure in being able to hit the open road and enjoy that.”

During the media event, Brin hinted that Google’s car may offer both a standard mode and a self-driving mode. He noted that human drivers, though, are more dangerous than self-driving cars.

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“I think for a large percentage of our day-to-day driving we’re going to much prefer for the car to drive itself,” Brin said. “It’ll be safer for both the occupant and the people around you.”

Simpson agreed that some autonomous technologies augment vehicle safety, but cautioned that these safety improvements shouldn’t prompt NHTSA to prematurely approve fully self-driving cars.

“Success with [automated] technologies, many of which need further vetting and research before standards can be implemented, must not lead us to believe that we are ready for general public use of fully autonomous self-driving robot cars on our public highways,” Simpson wrote.

“There is no need to rush the development of regulations and standards that would cover self-driving robot cars. They have not passed through the research and testing phase and clearly are not ready for public deployment.”

A full copy of Simpson’s letter can be read here: Letter to NHTSA on self driving rules