Senator Luján and Colleagues Call for Stronger Action from Federal Regulator on Autonomous Vehicle Safety After High-Profile Crashes  

Outline several safety steps, including restricting driving systems to the roads they are designed for, improving data collection, and investigating misleading marketing 

Letter Text (PDF)

Washington (April 18, 2024) – Senators Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and Senator Blumenthal led their colleagues in a letter to Sophie Shulman, the Acting Administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, today urging the agency to take more proactive and aggressive action to address the safety concerns of partially automated and fully automated driving systems. This letter is the latest in the Senators’ ongoing efforts to push auto manufacturers and regulating agencies to take seriously the dangers of partially automated and automated driving systems.

These driving systems, which are becoming increasingly common, present a long list of safety concerns at a time when roadway deaths are already too high. After several high-profile crashes involving both partially automated and automated driving systems, NHTSA has initiated several investigations, but has not taken further proactive steps to make these systems safe enough for U.S. roads.  

Cosigners in the Senate include Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), and Peter Welch (D-Vt.). The letter is also endorsed by the Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety, the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the Transport Workers Union, and the Center for Auto Safety.  

In their letter, the senators wrote, “We cannot allow partially automated driving systems and automated driving systems to accelerate the road safety crisis. NHTSA must take firm control of the wheel and steer manufacturers towards prioritizing safety.”  

The senators continued, “Public roads are not a sandbox for manufacturers or operators to play in, and regulatory agencies like NHTSA should be highly cautious about providing lax pathways onto the road for dangerous vehicles.” 

Specifically, the letter urges NHTSA to consider several policy actions that would make autonomous vehicles safer, including:  

·         Restrict driving systems to the roads they are designed for – partially automated and automated driving systems are designed only for certain road environments, but some manufacturers allow these systems to be engaged anywhere.  

·         Investigate confusing marketing that misleads drivers – partially automated driving systems are sometimes marketed as automated driving systems, leading to dangerous situations where drivers misunderstand the driving system’s capability.  

·         Explore requiring more robust data collection – vehicle manufactures are required to provide crash data to NHTSA for certain crashes, but this data is often incomplete and insufficient to inform potential regulatory safety actions.  

·         Consider proactive standards to make autonomous vehicles safer — outside of the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that every vehicle must comply with, there is no additional safety standard partially automated and automated driving systems must meet to ensure the vehicles are safe enough for public roads.  

·       Regulate remote assistance operators – Many automated driving systems rely on remote assistance operators to monitor the driving system, but there are no standards governing the credentials, location, or responsibilities of these operators.  

·         Exercise significant caution before exempting autonomous vehicles from existing safety standards – some reports indicate NHTSA is considering a pilot program to allow more vehicles equipped with automated driving systems on the road.  


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