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Feinstein, Colleagues Call for Rigorous Safety Standards on Autonomous Vehicles

Washington—Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) today called on the Department of Transportation to ensure that no new autonomous vehicle regulations or legislation are established without strong safety standards.

            The letter comes ahead of a hearing in the House Committee on Energy and Commerce tomorrow that will discuss autonomous vehicles and the federal government’s role in their deployment.

            “In light of the recent crisis facing the aviation industry and the parallels to increasing automation in the automotive industry—both of which are regulated by the Department of Transportation—we remain opposed to new autonomous vehicle regulations and legislation that do not include strong safety standards,” wrote the senators.

            “A clear lesson from the 737 MAX crashes is that new technologies cannot be rushed to market before rigorous oversight is conducted and comprehensive safety rules are enacted.”

            Full text of the letter is available here and below.

February 10, 2020 

The Honorable Elaine Chao

Secretary

U.S. Department of Transportation

1200 New Jersey Avenue SE

Washington, DC 20590

Dear Secretary Chao:

            In light of the recent crisis facing the aviation industry and the parallels to increasing automation in the automotive industry—both of which are regulated by the Department of Transportation—we remain opposed to new autonomous vehicle regulations and legislation that do not include strong safety standards.

            As transportation becomes more automated – similar to Boeing’s 737 MAX Maneuvering Characteristics Augmentation System that was responsible for two fatal plane crashes – mandatory safety standards and oversight must keep up. The recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board’s recent report about the March 2018 automated vehicle fatality in Arizona should be heeded quickly: the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must require mandatory, consistent safety self-assessments and establish a process for the ongoing evaluation of testing on public roads.

            Moreover, as the leader of the agency that regulates both aviation and automotive transportation, your position on autonomous vehicles should be informed by the failures of Boeing. A clear lesson from the 737 MAX crashes is that new technologies cannot be rushed to market before rigorous oversight is conducted and comprehensive safety rules are enacted.

            We watched with interest as you recently unveiled the Trump Administration’s updated principles regarding autonomous vehicles, and we appreciate your continued attention to this emerging technology. However, we are concerned that the Transportation Department’s latest set of guidelines do not contain any legally binding safety standards and requirements. We urge you to ensure that Department of Transportation safety regulators exercise the strongest oversight possible and promulgate meaningful rules, including protections for cybersecurity and consumer privacy, to ensure the safety of the public as these vehicles transform transportation and land use planning in our communities.

            We look forward to your response and to further discussions on this important topic. 

Sincerely,

Dianne Feinstein

United States Senator

Dick Durbin

United States Senator

Tom Udall

United States Senator

Edward J. Markey

United States Senator

Richard Blumenthal

United States Senator

Kirsten Gillibrand

United States Senator

Jeff Merkley

United States Senator

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