NTSB finds inadequate safeguards in American AV testing
Corinne Kisner, executive director of the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO), issued the following statement in response to NTSB's call for more stringent AV testing standards:
NACTO applauds NTSB for its focus on the systemic causes behind the death of Elaine Herzburg, who was struck by an Uber self-driving SUV in March 2018. NACTO urges all policymakers to immediately work to correct what NTSB found: a negligent safety culture at Uber and chronic inaction on the part of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which is responsible for autonomous vehicle safety across the country [United States of America].
During the hearing, NTSB determined that Uber had callously ignored safety, lacking even the most basic standards to ensure safety when testing autonomous vehicles. Uber had no plan in place to address driver inattention and complacency, a well-known issue with repetitive driving, especially in an automated scenario. Compounding this mistake, the company had no defined safety plan, even though it knew that its self-driving system did not reliably detect pedestrians outside of crosswalks.
However, Uber's missteps, while careless and ultimately fatal, did not occur in a vacuum. As emphasized by NTSB, there are virtually no federal safety standards, and few state standards, for AV testing in the United States. NACTO echoes NTSB's recommendations to NHTSA and States to establish comprehensive safety standards for AVs and evaluate companies' safety performance before permitting testing on public streets. It is not enough to request voluntary safety reports, often amounting to little more than "marketing brochures" in the words of one NTSB investigator.
We cannot afford for the institutions tasked with keeping streets safe to stay hands-off (or "laughably lax", as an NTSB board member put it) when it comes to AV technology. The absence of federal leadership, including mandatory safety standards, contributes to an inherently risky and unaccountable AV testing environment.
If they are developed, programmed, and rigorously tested with the safety of people outside and inside of the vehicle held as the paramount goal, AVs can theoretically make our streets much safer. But this outcome is impossible without clear safety standards and strong regulations from the institutions responsible for protecting everyone on our streets.