Consumer Watchdog Warns DMV Not To Let Google Rush Driverless Car Deployment

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today warned the California Department of Motor Vehicles not to succumb to pressure from Google and others with a vested interest in developing “driverless cars” to rush to adopt regulations for the pubic use of the vehicles that are inadequate to protect our safety.

“We urge the DMV to follow a sensible and deliberate approach that would require adequate testing and time to analyze the test results,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director, in a letter to DMV Director Jean Shiomoto.

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrdmvdriverless061014.pdf

The DMV has just published regulations that take effect Sept. 16 governing manufacturers’ testing of autonomous vehicles – “driverless cars” — on California highways. The department is now drafting regulations that will regulate the public use of the vehicles and expects to adopt them late in December.

“In the ideal rule-making process, regulations covering the public use of autonomous vehicles would not be adopted until they could be informed by the results of testing that was done under DMV regulation,” wrote Simpson. “Unfortunately the Legislature, under pressure from Google and the tech industry, required in SB 1298 that the regulations for both testing and public use be adopted by Jan. 1, 2015.”

Consumer Watchdog noted that the testing rules require reports explaining when and why a test driver had to take over operation of the car and the details of any accidents. The first such testing reports would cover the period from when a test vehicle received a permit – presumably Sept. 16 – through Nov. 30, 2015.  These reports would be due by Jan. 1, 2016.

Consumer Watchdog urged the DMV’s public use driverless car rules to include a provision that a driverless car must be tested for at least a year under DMV regulation and that at least six months be given to analyze the test results before a vehicle could be offered to the public.  Under Consumer Watchdog’s proposed regulation, the earliest time a “driverless car” could be approved for public use on California’s highways would be July 1, 2016.

“We call on the DMV to ensure the safety of the public is put well ahead of the self-serving agendas of the manufactures,” wrote Simpson.  “There can be no doubt that Google is pushing to deploy autonomous vehicles as fast as it can.  The Department of Motor Vehicles must not succumb to the Internet giant’s pressure.”

One of the key safety provisions of the testing regulations is the requirement that there must be a test driver in the driver’s seat who is capable of assuming control of the car if there is a problem, Consumer Watchdog said.

“Little more than a week after the DMV adopted the testing regulations, Google announced plans for a fleet of driverless cars that have no steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator,” wrote Simpson. “There would be no way for an occupant to take control in an emergency; occupants would be captives of Google’s technology, completely at the Internet giant’s mercy.”

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Published by John M. Simpson

John M. Simpson is a leading voice on technological privacy and stem cell research issues. His investigations this year of Google’s online privacy practices and book publishing agreements triggered intense media scrutiny and federal interest in the online giant’s business practices. His critique of patents on human embryonic stem cells has been key to expanding the ability of American scientists to conduct stem cell research. He has ensured that California’s taxpayer-funded stem cell research will lead to broadly accessible and affordable medicine and not just government-subsidized profiteering. Prior to joining Consumer Watchdog in 2005, he was executive editor of Tribune Media Services International, a syndication company. Before that, he was deputy editor of USA Today and editor of its international edition. Simpson taught journalism a Dublin City University in Ireland, and consulted for The Irish Times and The Gleaner in Jamaica. He served as president of the World Editors Forum. He holds a B.A. in philosophy from Harpur College of SUNY Binghamton and was a Gannett Fellow at the Center for Asian and Pacific Studies at the University of Hawaii. He has an M.A. in Communication Management from USC’s Annenberg School for Communication.

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