Thea Digiammerino

Blumenthal Wants More Safety Provisions for Self-Driving Cars

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal wants to strengthen federal legislation surrounding the introduction of self-driving cars.

While there’s excitement around the technology, he want to ensure semi-autonomous cars are also included in the bill, that there are requirements for all of the vehicles to have a manual override and that there is more transparency with the data and safety evaluations.

The legislation already moved from the U.S. Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. Blumenthal said while some of his amendments were accepted in committee, there needs to be more action taken in the bill that could possibly go to the floor for a vote in the spring or summer.

Blumenthal tested two semi-autonomous cars already on the market – a Tesla Model 3 and a Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise – Tuesday at the Consumer Reports test track in Colchester.

This comes after two deadly crashes last month - one involving one of Uber Technologies Inc.’s self-driving vehicles in Arizona. The other involved the semi-autonomous Tesla Model X. The company said its autopilot feature was on and the driver’s hands were not on the steering wheel for six second prior to the deadly crash.

Blumenthal tried out the semi-autonomous Tesla Model 3 on Consumer Reports’ test track. While on autopilot going 65 mph, the driver still needed to manually swerve the car to keep it from hitting another vehicle, according to the senator, even though the Model 3 has an emergency breaking system.

“This technology is nowhere near as smart as people assume it is. Being in that vehicle is a little bit like having a toddler at the wheel. Fine as long as there’s no crisis,” Blumenthal said.

According to Consumer Reports, in a Tesla Model 3 on autopilot, a driver can only have their hands off the wheel for about a minute. Otherwise the car will send a warning.

“It’s designed exactly to do what it’s doing. Unfortunately, if you come to the end of the road, or the lines go away, or there’s a car parked in your lane, it’s not designed to actually avoid it right now,” said Consumer Reports’ Director of Auto Testing Jake Fisher.

Fisher said drivers cannot be lulled into a false sense of security. They still need to have their eyes on the road.

The semi-autonomous Cadillac CT6 with Super Cruise will only let a driver go into Super Cruise on roads the vehicle already knows, according to Consumer Reports. Plus there’s a camera on the driver to make sure they’re paying attention. But they can take their hands off the wheel.

“We want to make sure that data is broadly shared to demonstrate their safety before the rest of us have to be guinea pigs sharing the road,” David Friedman said. He’s the director of cars and product policy and analysis of Consumers Union, the advocacy division of Consumer Reports.

This bill is focused on testing and commercial sales of these vehicles, Friedman said, adding right now a person can’t by any car that is truly self-driving. The bill would potentially open the door for commercial sale and use of tens to hundreds of sales of these vehicles.

“It’s going to be us and our children and our families on the road with these vehicles, that’s why these critical safety provisions need to be there to protect all of us as well as those inside those cars,” Friedman said.

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