The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) has launched a new voluntary program to collect and share data on self-driving vehicle operators,media reported. Companies that test electric cars on public roads are invited to submit information to the government, which is then published online. But given the voluntary nature of the project, security advocates say it may not provide useful data to the public.
There are currently no federal regulations requiring self-driving cars (AV) companies to submit information about their testing activities to the government. Instead, the rules for which information can be disclosed and which cannot vary from state to state. California has the strictest rules that require companies to license different types of tests, disclose vehicle collisions, provide driving miles, and force human safety drivers to control the frequency of self-driving vehicles. Unsurprisingly, AV hates California’s requirements.
Since 2012, at least 41 states and Washington have considered enacting laws related to self-driving vehicles, and 29 have enacted such measures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Even then the federal government is reluctant to go any further than the latest state requirements.
The Obama administration is understood to be the first to require voluntary safety reports from companies testing self-driving cars, and the Trump administration has relaxed the rules, saying anything that could be interpreted as mandatory could stifle innovation.
Upfront reports from Waymo, Ford and GM are more like beautiful marketing brochures, lacking statistics such as fleet size, total mileage, and graduation rates. In addition, there is no system for independent certification of this technology at the federal or state level. So what the public can do is believe what these companies say.
Even now, that hasn’t changed much. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) says its new Automated Vehicle Transparency and Safety Test (AV TEST) program aims to reveal where AV testing is being conducted — but that’s all.
Currently, there are a number of location-based online tools that can track these AV tests, including interactive maps developed by Bloomberg Philanthropies, which have been active since 2017.
Currently, only nine companies have initially signed agreements to participate in NHTSA voluntary initiatives: Beep, Cruz, Fiat Chrysler, Local Motors, Navya, Nuro, Toyota, Uber and Waymo. States expected to join include California, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah.
It is understood that the issue of AV test data is a hot issue for AV companies, regulators and advocates. In order to keep it low-cost, protect proprietary information, and prevent the release of embarrassing information, companies tend to share as little information as possible.
The federal government is also inclined to agree that requiring any data disclosure would be too cumbersome for the AV industry and could hamper hypothetical studies that could reduce fatal crashes. This laissez-faire attitude began with the Obama administration and was reinforced under President Trump. Elaine Chao, the transport minister, has often said that the federal government should not be involved in picking winners and losers.
Security advocates were quick to condemn the attitude. The Center for Auto Safety has publicly criticized the federal government’s approach to the AV industry, accusing the Department of Transportation of siding with corporate interests and accepting any piecemeal information about AV testing. “It will ultimately be up to the board, not the federal government, to decide what data to submit or not submit.” When a company’s car crashes again, it is more likely that the company’s public relations team will decide whether it will continue to share information than consult federal regulations. “
It is reported that while the United States will continue to debate legislation to establish a national AV testing and deployment framework, but the security and accountability differences continue to waver.