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Testimony Submitted for the House Energy & Commerce Subcommittee Hearing on Self-Driving Cars

Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets Testimony Submitted for the Record
Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Chairman Burgess, Ranking Member Schakowsky, and Members of the Committee, on behalf of the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets (“Coalition”), I am pleased to submit this written testimony for the record of the subcommittee’s “Disrupter Series: Self-Driving Cars” hearing on November 15, 2016.

As President Obama noted in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “self-driving cars have gone from sci-fi fantasy to an emerging reality with the potential to transform the way we live.”  This technology has the potential to be truly transformative—forever altering our concept of transportation and mobility while also preventing thousands of roadway fatalities.  This is an important subject for the consideration of policymakers, and we appreciate your convening this hearing and soliciting input from the many stakeholders across the self-driving ecosystem.

This statement outlines what we believe policymakers should consider in order to create a consistent and uniform national framework for the testing and deployment of self-driving cars.  We focus primarily on the “Federal Automated Vehicles Policy” (“Policy”), which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) recently published for comment.

The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets was established by Ford Motor Company, Google, Lyft, Uber, and Volvo Cars in April 2016 to work with lawmakers, regulators, and the public to realize the safety and societal benefits of fully self-driving vehicles.  This cross section of technology, automobile, and transportation network companies reflects diversity and clearly demonstrates the widespread interest in developing this technology.  The Coalition is focused on enabling development and deployment of Level 4 or Level 5 fully automated vehicles.  We believe these levels have great potential for gains in safety and mobility.

The Coalition is dedicated to working collaboratively with civic organizations, municipalities, and businesses to bring the vision of fully self-driving vehicles—that is, vehicles that do not require a human driver—to America’s roads and highways.  Self-driving technology has the great potential to enhance public safety and mobility (especially for the elderly and disabled), reduce traffic congestion, and advance transportation efficiency, and the Coalition’s mission is to promote these potential benefits and support the their safe and rapid deployment

The NHTSA Policy represents a significant update of the Preliminary Statement of Policy on Automated Vehicles the agency published in 2013.  Most important is the recognition that manufacturers and other entities have made tremendous strides in evolving automated vehicle technology.  The Policy captures the significant shift towards highly automated vehicles (“HAVs”), and we appreciate the agency’s work on it.  However, we believe that the Policy needs additional clarification from NHTSA.

The agency’s Vehicle Performance Guidance (“Guidance”) and Safety Assessment letter is a novel approach that attempts to provide the industry with flexibility to develop, test, and refine this technology.  However, there are concerns that the Guidance could be interpreted to require manufacturers to provide multiple and repeated submissions to the agency.  This could potentially hamper innovation and force companies into an overly burdensome paperwork exercise.  We also have concerns with how the agency would protect confidential or proprietary business information. NHTSA should focus on limiting the information being requested from manufacturers to the narrowest scope possible to avoid unnecessary accumulation of sensitive industry data and the potential commercial harm companies could suffer if publicly released.  

While the Policy outlines the important delineation between federal and state roles in regulating automated vehicles, it does not outright discourage states from adopting and mandating the Vehicle Performance Guidance.  It is vital for the states to maintain their existing responsibilities in establishing licensing, registration, and insurance requirements.  Any state actions beyond that risks creating a patchwork of varying state laws that may inhibit HAV testing and development.  We encourage this Committee and Congress to work to establish a single national framework to move toward the rapid and safe deployment of HAVs.  

The Coalition believes that the emergence of HAVs requires NHTSA, the industry and other stakeholders, to develop new approaches to solving the complex issues that accompany the design, testing, and deployment of HAVs.  However, we note that some of the proposed new regulatory authorities and tools in section IV of the Policy run counter to this objective.  Among other drawbacks, some of these new authorities and tools risk imposing prohibitive costs on manufacturing of HAVs and delaying the rollout of important safety features and updates.  These proposed new authorities include pre-market approval, imminent hazard authority, post-sale authority to regulate software changes, safety assurance tools, functional and system safety authority, additional recordkeeping and reporting, enhanced data collection tools,

On the other hand, we believe that several of the “modern regulatory tools” discussed in the Policy would facilitate the safe and rapid deployment of HAVs.

In light of the considerations set forth above related to the Policy issued by NHTSA, the Coalition is calling for Congress to enact legislation to facilitate the rapid deployment of HAVs.  Legislation to carry out this objective could include the revision of NHTSA’s exemption authority to allow for a greater number of vehicles to be allowed on the road for development or field evaluation of HAVs. This flexibility would provide multiple avenues for manufacturers and innovators to safely explore a number of vehicle changes that would promote the safety of HAVs and passenger comfort and utility.  As an initial matter, we urge Congress to eliminate or raise the exemption cap to a level that will help facilitate meaningful commercial deployment of HAVs.

We appreciate the opportunity to provide this testimony, and reiterate our thanks for the Subcommittee holding this important hearing.  We look forward to providing additional information in the future as the Congress continues to debate and discuss self-driving vehicles. 

 

Sincerely,

Hon. David L. Strickland

Counsel, Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets

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