Letter Argues AV Safety Must be “Paramount Concern”

A multi-organization letter sent to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation and the House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce on September 12 stressed that implementing a successful national autonomous vehicle or AV policy requires finding the “appropriate balance” between state, local, and federal government responsibilities – ensuring that appropriate funding and incentives are in place for “desired outcomes.”

Self-driving Bolt EV; photo by GM

The letter – spearheaded by the National Conference of State Legislatures and endorsed by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, American Motor Vehicle Administrators Association, Governors Highway Safety Association, National League of Cities, National Governors Association, National Association of Counties, and the U.S. Conference of Mayors – also emphasized that AV  issues must be approached “in a systematic and pragmatic manner” to ensure that “safety on our nation’s roadways and streets is paramount.”

[Three state programs just recently received research grants from the U.S. Department of Transportation to study some of those issues. That story can be found by clicking here.]

Photo by Ford Motor Co.

“Many of our members have expressed concerns that these new technologies may not be subject to appropriate safety rules or standards as they are developed and then tested or deployed on public roadways with other road users,” the groups noted in their letter.

“We therefore urge the submission of a highly detailed safety evaluation report and its subsequent and timely release to the public,” they said. “We urge you to avoid the creation of a safety vacuum – the combination of a federal regulator that does not act and a perpetual prohibition on states from acting.”

[State departments of transportation are already deeply involved in a variety of AV pilot programs, with the Rhode Island DOT and Utah DOT currently testing autonomous shuttle buses.]

To that end, the organizations argued that state and local governments are the “primary authority” concerning vehicle operational safety – including “regulating the operation of motor vehicles after such vehicles have been constructed, the operators of those motor vehicles, as well as establishing the rules of the road on how motor vehicles can be safely operated on public roadways” – and compromising that authority could compromise safety.

“Protecting public safety on the roadways is one of the fundamental roles of state and local government,” according to the letter.

“With the rapid pace of autonomous technological innovation not being matched by corresponding vehicle safety standards or other requirements by the National Highway and Traffic Safety Administration, states and cities have stepped into this role in order to ensure that autonomous vehicle testing – which is aimed at improving this technology – is done in a safe and responsible manner,” the groups noted.

To read the entire letter, click here.

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