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Coalition Testimony at California DMV Workshop, October 19, 2016

Testimony of the Honorable David Strickland on Behalf of the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets
Wednesday, October 19, 2016 9:00 AM (PDT) 

Good Morning.  I am testifying on behalf of the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, whose membership includes Ford Motor Company, Google, Lyft, Uber, and the Volvo Car Group.  The Coalition was founded earlier this year to promote the benefits of fully self-driving vehicles and support the safe and rapid deployment of these innovative and potentially life-saving technologies. 

The Coalition supports efforts to provide consistent national guidance across states for the deployment of Highly Automated Vehicles (“HAVs”).  Unfortunately, the DMV’s proposal contains a number of provisions that would hinder these efforts and, as a result, the Coalition cannot support the revised draft regulations as currently written.  The proposed update to California’s draft regulations fixes a number of the key concerns in the draft from last December that would have precluded fully self-driving cars from being tested or deployed in California, but the latest draft unfortunately creates new issues and concerns.  Some of these issues could greatly delay the benefits that self-driving vehicles can bring to safety and mobility for individuals. 

Less than one month ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (“NHTSA”) published voluntary guidance on HAVs, including a 15-point safety assessment framework.  This guidance is still in its infancy, leading NHTSA to expressly deem it voluntary.  The Agency has requested comment on the guidance, and seeks to refresh the the document on an annual basis through public comment.  While the DMV’s proposal refers to NHTSA’s guidance, and the DMV worked closely with NHTSA and the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators (AAMVA) on the accompanying model state policy, the DMV goes much further and requires manufacturers to certify compliance with several provisions of that guidance, as well as introduce new safety provisions that go beyond what NHTSA has included.  For example, the revised proposal would require manufacturers to “certify that the vehicles are incapable of operating” outside its specified operating domain or to “certify that the vehicles are incapable of operating in autonomous mode under” certain conditions.  As written, these certification requirements would effectively codify NHTSA’s voluntary guidance.  Mandating compliance is completely counter to NHTSA’s objective in voluntary guidance, is premature, creates unnecessary regulatory confusion, and would impose an unjustified burden on companies currently working to safely reach full-scale commercial deployment of HAVs in a timely manner.

The Coalition also has a number of concerns with specific provisions proposed by the DMV.  First, the DMV’s proposal would require that manufacturers: (1) maintain data regarding circumstances under which the autonomous technology fails or must be deactivated for safety reasons; (2) provide an annual report of such data; and (3) report collisions that result in property damage or bodily injury or death.  Most challenging is that, in order to obtain a permit for deployment, the revised draft regulations would require that manufacturers have submitted at least one of these annual reports, effectively imposing a one-year waiting period between testing and deployment.  Such a delay would impose an arbitrary hurdle without a clear linkage to safety.  While the Coalition recognizes the importance and benefit of collecting such data, the absence of an analogous requirement for collecting and disclosing similar information about non-autonomous vehicles creates a risk that this data could present a skewed and inaccurate impression about the safety and performance of autonomous vehicles.  Focusing only on the “disengagements” and collisions ignores the safety benefits that autonomous vehicles can provide.  The methods and the thresholds manufacturers use to collect data about the status, operation, and performance of their vehicles are often not consistent and therefore would not be easily compared.  Furthermore, the guidance repeatedly calls for the industry to work collaboratively with the Agency to develop the appropriate performance metrics for this new technology.  Clearly the federal government does not presume to have the all answers at this point and we believe collaboration is the best path forward.  

Second, the proposed regulations would require manufacturers to provide “a reference to the ordinances or resolutions from local authorities that specifies the operational design domains within the jurisdiction of the local authorities that the vehicles may be operated” in order to obtain a permit for testing autonomous vehicles that do not require a driver.  It is unclear which “ordinances or resolutions from local authorities” manufacturers should point to.  Local authorities do not, and should not, regulate the operation of a motor vehicle.  This provision encourages municipalities to promulgate their own regulations relating to autonomous vehicles—leading to a patchwork regime that could impose different requirements on vehicles as they travel from one municipality to a neighboring one.  Such a scheme would be so untenable and so unwieldy that it would halt innovation altogether.

Third, the permitting process under the proposed regulations would require that autonomous vehicles be equipped with autonomous technology data recorders, and that manufacturers release data captured by those data recorders to law enforcement within 24 hours of a law enforcement request.  As written, the proposed regulation sets no limits on the circumstances under which law enforcement can request—and manufacturers are obligated to provide—data from autonomous vehicles.  Requiring that manufacturers allow law enforcement unlimited access to data regarding the operation of a motor vehicle does not comport with consumer expectations of privacy.  Law enforcement has formal processes (warrant or subpoena) to request such data and the DMV should update the draft to reflect these well-established tools.

The proposed regulations would further require manufacturers to submit several items referenced in NHTSA’s guidance, such as certification that the  manufacturer’s safety assessment complies with the “Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles” and consumer education program documentation beyond what NHTSA would require in a safety assessment.  As NHTSA made clear in its guidance, they are the Agency responsible for vehicle safety performance in the United States.  The 15 items in the safety assessment letter covers those items that NHTSA has specified for manufacturers to voluntarily provide information on that supports the safety of their autonomous vehicle performance. Thus, it is costly and unnecessarily burdensome for the DMV to ask for additional information on items that NHTSA is satisfied with.

The stakes are enormous.  That HAVs provide a means to directly address virtually every crash risk, provide independence and mobility to seniors and the disabled, and to reduce congestion cannot be ignored or denied.  We are years, not decades away from this becoming a reality for the public.  As it stands, the DMV’s proposal contains some provisions that would create significant barriers to a rapid and full-scale commercial deployment of an autonomous fleet.  The Coalition urges the Department to reconsider its overly restrictive proposal.  The Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets looks forward to working with you on the operational guidelines and the multiple other aspects of making full self-driving an immediate reality.

Thank you.