WASHINGTON — Five Senate Democrats, with support from public safety advocates, on Wednesday outlined their concerns with pending legislation designed to provide a regulatory framework for the testing and deployment of self-driving vehicles.
In a letter to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune, R-S.D., the senators said the AV START Act would undermine consumer protections by not holding autonomous vehicles to equivalent levels of safety.
"Until new safety standards are put in place, the interim framework must provide the same level of safety as current standards. Self-driving cars should be no more likely to crash than cars currently do, and should provide no less protection to occupants or pedestrians in the event of a crash," Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and her colleagues wrote.
"Exemptions from current safety standards should be temporary and reviewable, and the caps on the total number of exemptions should apply to companies, not individual models."
Feinstein and Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., were reported to have blocked the legislation from being approved through an expedited process of unanimous consent. Also signing the letter were Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., and Tom Udall, D-N.M.
The letter said the bill goes too far in pre-empting states and localities from regulating the performance of robot cars, provides too many exemptions for developers, lacks cybersecurity and privacy safeguards and doesn't require manufacturers to submit safety evaluation reports for vehicles with partial automation.
Last week, safety advocates complained the Senate was rushing to please the auto industry without putting sufficient safeguards on autonomous vehicles allowed to operate on public roads.