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Self-Driving Coalition Testimony Before NYC DOT

Self-Driving Coalition Testimony Before NYC DOT

September 1, 2021

Good morning, my name is Ariel Wolf, and I serve as General Counsel to the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to comment today. The Coalition appreciates the Department’s interest in AVs and desire to attract AVs to the City. However, we are concerned that the rules as written are not harmonized with state and federal requirements and are not likely to advance safety and mobility options for New Yorkers. We therefore would request the ability to meet with the Department and discuss how we can achieve our shared goal of providing safe mobility options to New Yorkers through AVs.

By way of background, the Self-Driving Coalition is comprised of fifteen of the world’s leading autonomous vehicle companies across the technology, ridesharing, trucking, and automotive sectors. Our mission is to realize the benefits of fully autonomous vehicles and support the safe deployment of these potentially life-saving technologies. Fatal vehicle crashes—the vast majority of which are due to human error—are one of the leading causes of death in the U.S. In New York City specifically, although there were fewer New Yorkers in the City last year due to the pandemic, the City experienced its second-highest number of fatal crashes in the past 5 years. As fully autonomous vehicles remove human error from the driving process, these vehicles may save New Yorkers’ lives year over year.

New York City is also home to millions of individuals—including seniors and those with visual impairments—who would benefit greatly from the increased safety and mobility that AVs could provide. Additionally, AVs can help to reduce traffic congestion, improve environmental quality, and advance transportation efficiency.

The Coalition appreciates efforts to advance these benefits by encouraging the operation of AVs in New York state and New York City. However, uniformity of regulations across a state is essential for the development of this technology. A patchwork of local regulations will make testing and operating AVs in New York more difficult and may have a chilling effect on AV activity in the state. We, therefore, urge the Department to work with state level counterparts to establish a uniform, statewide regulatory structure.

However, to the extent the Department issues its own rules, we believe it should address issues that are unique to the City. While we have various concerns with the rules as written, we wanted to emphasize two specific obligations the rules would impose. First, the requirement to indemnify the City against all legal liabilities associated with AV testing is unprecedented. No other state or city in the United States requires indemnification as a condition of AV operation. Instead, states and cities around the country—from California to D.C.—have AVs operating millions of miles every year on public roads without seeking indemnification. There is no reason to think that AVs present more risk than conventional vehicles to justify this unprecedented measure.

Second, the regulations would require permit holders to certify that an AV is safer than a human driver. Although we feel strongly that AVs hold the promise of reducing crash fatalities and injuries, it is unclear how the Department would determine a uniform benchmark for this metric given the fluidity of human driver performance. Since there is no widely accepted method for making this comparison, this requirement may discourage AV operation in the City as companies would be unsure of how to make this certification.

We welcome the opportunity to continue working alongside the Department to advance the operation of AVs in New York City and bring the many benefits of AVs to New Yorkers safely and swiftly. Thank you for your time and consideration.