Consumer Watchdog Tells DMV Police Must Investigate Robot Car Crashes

Crash Data And Video Should Be Provided To Department For Release To Public, Group Says

SANTA MONICA, CA – Consumer Watchdog today called on the California Department of Motor Vehicles to amend its Autonomous Vehicle Regulation to require that police investigate any crashes of robot cars being tested on public roads.

In addition the DMV should require that any data and video gathered by a robot car just before and during a crash should be provided to the department, the nonpartisan nonprofit public interest group said. The video and data – with personally identifying information redacted – should be released to the public.

“The robot car accident reports are prepared and filed by the company doing the testing. Inevitably the companies will present their version of what happened in any crash in the best possible light,” wrote John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project director. “Relying solely on the word of the testing company is not adequate to protect the legitimate public interest in ensuring robot cars are tested safely.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter to Jean Shiomoto, director of the Department of Motor Vehicles here:

Consumer Watchdog said police should interview drivers and witnesses and file an independent report about any incident.  Since Google began testing its robot cars six years ago, its vehicles have been involved in 15 accidents.  Delphi has been in one one crash.

Consumer Watchdog noted that the Autonomous Vehicle Regulations also require the companies testing robot cars to file reports about every instance when a human driver had to take control of the car.  The first such “disengagement” reports are due Jan. 1, 2016.  Consumer Watchdog said those reports must be released to the public.

“Google’s cars have been involved in the most crashes – 15 – perhaps because they have the most vehicles on public roads. Under the current reporting system the DMV – and the public – must rely entirely on the Internet giant’s version of what happened,” Simpson wrote. “There is no independent third-party verification.  ‘Trust us, we’re Google’ simply isn’t good enough when our public highways become the company’s laboratory.”

As of Aug. 14 there were nine companies with 78 robot cars and 311 drivers approved for testing on California roads, according to the DMV. They are: Volkswagen with three cars and 30 drivers, Mercedes Benz with five cars and 13 drivers, Google with 48 cars (including 25 prototype cars) and 191 drivers, Delphi with two cars and nine drivers, Tesla with 12 cars and16 drivers, Bosch LLC  with two cars and 20 drivers, Nissan with three cars and 20 drivers, Cruise Automation with two cars and 11 drivers, and BMW with one car and one driver.

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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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