U.S. labor groups and a consumer safety advocate urged the Biden administration to strengthen measures to protect the safety of autonomous vehicles before they are widely deployed on U.S. roads.
While lawmakers highlighted worries about self-driving vehicles at a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee hearing, they also stated that the technology might help avert tens of thousands of road deaths.
"We need to know what is occurring on our roadways, and the only way to ensure safety is via regulation," Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Cathy Chase said in support of minimum performance criteria.
Ariel Wolf, general counsel for the Autonomous Vehicle Industry Association, said before legislators, "Not only are autonomous cars safe, but they also contribute to the safety of our roadways. But, unfortunately, our streets are in a state of disaster." The AVIA is a trade association that represents Ford Motor Company (F.N.), Alphabet Inc's (GOOGL.O) Waymo, and General Motors Co's (GM.N) self-driving Cruise subsidiary, among others.
According to U.S. officials, the first nine months of 2021 saw the most significant traffic accidents since 2006.
Legislation aimed at expediting the deployment of self-driving vehicles and removing roadblocks has been stuck for years and shows little indication of progress. Additionally, U.S. safety officials are probing a series of incidents employing Tesla Inc's (TSLA.O) Autopilot driving assistance technology. Tesla has said that its technologies are entirely safe.
Under pressure from authorities, Tesla decided to disable a function in its "Full Self-Driving" (Beta) feature that lets vehicles go through a stop sign without coming to a complete stop at low speeds. At Wednesday's session, Representative Hank Johnson slammed Tesla's feature.
According to Teamsters representative Doug Bloch, "all employees want to know that an autonomous car or bot going beside them is safe enough to share the same road or job site."
The Transport Workers Union of America president, John Samuelsen, recently urged legislators that the U.S. must "create and enforce rigorous safety requirements" for driverless cars.
"A.V. technologies that have not been thoroughly assessed and vetted by independent federal safety authorities, technologies that aim to circumvent their restrictions, and technologies that are purposefully meant to displace employees should all be questionable," Samuelsen noted.
According to U.S. Representative Peter DeFazio, the committee's chairman, over 1,400 autonomous cars are being tested by more than 80 businesses in 36 states.
"To enjoy the safety advantages of autonomous vehicles, regulators must play a role in holding industry responsible and ensuring that A.V.s live up to their promise of safer roads," DeFazio said. "We have seen what happens when authorities allow the industry to operate unfettered... We cannot compromise on quality for the sake of expediency or convenience."
Numerous politicians expressed concern that self-driving vehicles may jeopardize jobs.