Senators Markey, Blumenthal Begin Investigation Into Safety Protocol for Driverless Car Testing On Public Road

They have sought details from autonomous carmakers regarding the safety measures they take while test-driving their vehicles.

Senator Markey Uber
Steven Senne / AP Images

They have sought details from autonomous carmakers regarding the safety measures they take while test-driving their vehicles.

In February, a self-driving Uber test vehicle struck and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona. This week, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released its initial findings, which has raised many questions about the processes that self-driving car makers have in place to guard public safety when testing their vehicles on public roads.

Earlier this week, Senators Edward J. Markey and Richard Blumenthal wrote to major autonomous carmakers, asking them to explain in detail the safety measures they take while test-driving their vehicles.

According to the press release issued by Senator Markey, letters were sent to BMW of North America, Daimler Trucks North America, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles US, Ford Motor Company, General Motors Company, Honda North America, Hyundai Motor America, Jaguar Land Rover Automotive North America, Kia Motors America, Mazda North American Operations, Mercedes-Benz USA, Mercedes-Benz Vans USA, Mitsubishi Motors North America, Nissan North America, Subaru of North America, Tesla, Toyota Motor North America, Volkswagen Group of America, Volvo Car USA, Amazon, Apple, Intel Corporation, Lyft, NVIDIA Corporation, Uber Technologies, and Waymo.

“Although we understand that Uber and several other AV companies have temporarily halted vehicle testing, we would like to know more about your company’s protocols for test-driving AVs on public roads and how they will be adjusted in light of the recent tragedy,” the senators said in a joint statement.

Most AV companies require two employees in every vehicle during tests on public roads. However, Uber recently modified its safety protocols to require just one person in the vehicle. The report also alleges that Uber proceeded with this change despite their employees expressing safety concerns about the looser safety protocols.

In their letter, Senators Markey and Blumenthal sought answers to ten questions. A few of them are listed below:

  • Where is your company testing AVs and how did it determine it was safe to operate on public roads?
  • How many employees are required to be in the AV during testing, and how have protocols regarding the number of drivers changed over time?
  • Have there been any incidents related to pedestrians or safety concerns and have drivers had to suddenly regain control of the AV?
  • What protocols are in place to ensure drivers can regain control of an AV while in autonomous mode?
  • How does your company select drivers for its AVs and what minimum requirements are needed to become a driver?
  • Do you plan to change safety protocol for testing AVs on public roads in lights of the Arizona fatality?
  • What data on safety performance does your company record from your AVs and is this information available to federal and state safety authorities?

A copy of the Senators’ letters can be found here.