Don’t Be Fooled By Robot Car Hype At CES Gadget Show, Consumer Watchdog Warns

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumers and regulators should not be fooled by the autonomous vehicle hype coming out of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Consumer Watchdog warned today.

“Robot car advocates are putting a glitzy spin on their ‘autonomous’ technologies,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.  “The fact is that while some emerging technologies may promote safety, self-driving robot cars are not remotely ready for deployment on public highways without a steering wheel and pedals so a human driver can intervene when necessary.”

Regulators appear to be emphasizing safety as they develop regulations and policies covering autonomous vehicles, Consumer Watchdog said. The nonprofit, nonpartisan public interest group urged them to continue a deliberate approach that emphasizes safety and not yield to corporate pressure.

Currently California has regulations covering testing robot cars on the state’s highways, which require a driver behind a steering wheel capable of taking control.  Last month the DMV issued draft regulations for the general use of robot cars on the state’s roads that will also require a driver behind the wheel capable of taking control.

Google, which is testing 53 robot cars in California and Texas, said it was “gravely disappointed” and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said the “draft regulations may prove too onerous, create road blocks to innovation, and may ultimately drive the development of this promising industry to other states.”

“It’s imperative the DMV continue to put public safety first, and not cave to corporate and political pressure,” said Simpson. The department will hold public workshops to discuss the draft rules on Jan. 28 in Sacramento and on Feb. 2 in Los Angeles.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is also pledging to emphasize safety as it updates its two-and-a-half year old policy paper on automated vehicles. Secretary Anthony Foxx called for the update last month prompting Consumer Watchdog to warn NHTSA,  “Do not put the interests of the robot car developers ahead of the public’s safety in the face of ongoing pressure from self-driving robot car manufacturers like Google, which has promised a vehicle without a steering wheel or brake pedal.”

“Your cautionary remarks are well taken,” responded Nathaniel Beuse, NHTSA Associate Administrator for Vehicle Safety Research in a letter. “Safety is and will be NHTSA’s top-priority.”

Eleven companies  – Volkswagen Group of America, Mercedes Benz, Google, Delphi Automotive, Tesla Motors, Bosch, Nissan, Cruise Automation, BMW, Honda and Ford – are approved to test robot cars on California roads.

View the California DMV’s autonomous vehicle page here: https://www.dmv.ca.gov/portal/dmv/detail/vr/autonomous/auto

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter to NHTSA here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/ltrnhtsa120315.pdf

Read the letter from NHTSA’s Nathaniel Beuse here:  http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/nhtsaltr121815.pdf

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Visit our website at www.ConsumerWatchdog.org

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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