The recent guidelines published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration NHTSA abdicate its mandate which would have resulted in thoughtful, thorough, national regulations that ensure, transparency, safety, and accountability, instead they are simply deffering to the industry to regulate itself and passing the buck down to the states. The guidelines clearly lack legally enforceable regulations and may allow the possibility of states weakening existing liability laws that protect consumers and permit manufacturers of unsafe and malfunctioning vehicles to escape responsibility for harm caused when a highly automated vehicle (HAV) crashes.
NHTSA must not delegate its regulatory responsibilities to the states. NHTSA must issue a minimum federal performance standard for Highly Automated Vehicles (HAV’s), and make clear there is no preemption. Designers and manufacturers must be held accountable for any harm HAVs cause.
This announcement should not be seen as an alternative to comprehensive safety standards, thorough oversight and strong enforcement. The promising benefits of HAVs are great, but the potential problems are too serious and the public safety risks are too momentous to be left to industry alone. Recent incidents involving the recall of tens of millions of vehicles and needless deaths and injuries due to faulty General Motors’ ignition switches, dangerous Takata airbags and cheating emissions systems in Volkswagen vehicles highlight how the industry easily conceals problems from both the public and the government.
The Department of Transportation (DOT) must use its federal regulatory authority to assure the American public of the safety of HAVs. Safety performance standards encourage competition among automotive companies because they help to assure a market for the real innovators and suppliers. The manufacturers always complain about new federal protections, but HAVs are a whole new technology with great promise but also with the potential for serious public harm.
The advent of this new technology and its release is happening so quickly that the NHTSA claims it is not ready to issue minimum regulatory performance standards. NHTSA has surrendered its Congressional mandate to manufacturers and the States. This is abhorrent of the National Traffic Safety Act. In doing so, it appears that we’re heading toward a hodge-podge of state regulations or no regulation whatsoever.
The addition of HAVs to the marketplace represents a brand new area in which vehicle manufacturers will compete for sales. There are billions of dollars of profits at stake. The more “autonomous” features that are offered, the greater the marketing opportunities. This certainly explains the frenzy of car companies to market each feature and to be the “first” with the “most” automated features.