Google’s Own Robot Car “Disengagement” Report Shows Need For Driver Behind Wheel, Consumer Watchdog Says; Group Calls for Release of Videos Of Incidents

SANTA MONICA, CA – Google’s just released report detailing when human drivers took control of a self-driving robot car being tested underscores the need – as required by California DMV draft regulations – for a driver behind a steering wheel of a self-driving car, Consumer Watchdog said today.

The nonpartisan, nonprofit public interest group also called on Google to release any videos of the incidents, as well as technical data gathered immediately preceding the disengagements.

“The DMV got it exactly right and is putting our safety first,” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director.  “How can Google propose a car with no steering wheel, brakes or driver when its own tests show that over 15 months the robot technology failed and handed control to the driver 272 times and a test driver felt compelled to intervene 69 times?”

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.  The test rules also require companies testing self-driving cars to file disengagement reports with the department.
Read Google’s disengagement report here: http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/resources/cadmvdisengagereport-dec.2015.pdf

“Release of the disengagement report was a positive step, but Google should also make public any video it has of the disengagement incidents, as well as any technical data it collected so we can fully understand what went wrong as it uses our public roads as its private laboratory,” Simpson said

Seven companies that were approved for testing self-driving cars in 2014 were required to file disengagement reports with the DMV by Jan. 1.  The seven are Volkswagen Group of America, Mercedes Benz, Google, Delphi, Tesla, Bosch and Nissan. A DMV spokeswoman said the department expects to post the disengagement reports on its website.

Last month the DMV issued draft regulations for the general use of robot cars on the state’s roads that will – like the testing regulations – 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.

Eleven companies  – Volkswagen Group of America, Mercedes Benz, Google, Delphi Automotive, Tesla Motors, Bosch, Nissan, Cruise Automation, BMW, Honda and Ford – are now 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

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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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