Washington D.C. Bureau

Lawmakers question safety of self-driving vehicles


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WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – Nearly a hundred companies are currently testing self-driving cars on public roadways.

The automated vehicles may be the transportation of the future, but Congress is not ready to give them the green light.

“That’s not safe!,” exclaimed U.S. Sen. Ed Markey, D-MA. “Somebody’s gonna die!”

Before Americans can buy a car that drives itself, Markey wants to make sure they can’t cheat the autopilot system.

“Tesla drivers have identified a variety of tricks to make autopilot believe they are focused on the road even if they are literally asleep at the wheel,” Markey said.

Markey worries drivers can add weight to the steering wheel, like a water bottle or an orange, to trick the system into thinking their hands are still on the wheel. At a Senate Commerce Committee hearing this week, he demanded the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, which has the authority to issue recalls, do something about it.

“Have you had that conversation?,” Markey asked.

“I would have to get back to you on that particular question,” replied Dr. James Owens, NHTSA’s acting administrator.

“I would urge you to do that very quickly,” Markey said.

Owens told Markey the agency has received a number of complaints and is talking with Tesla on a variety of issues.

“It is unfortunate when drivers misuse their vehicles and engage in unsafe behaviors,” he said.

Owens indicated NHTSA is not ready to regulate these automated vehicles because the standards could block innovation and competition.

Congress has debated for several years whether to revise federal regulations to speed up the approval of self-driving vehicles.

“There’s some healthy skepticism… but I think automated vehicles are going to save thousands upon thousands of lives,” said U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-MS.

Wicker, the chair of the committee, argues most accidents with self-driving cars involve human error, not a faulty system.

“In talking to members afterward, I think most of them realize this is the wave of the future,” he said.

Lawmakers have drafted a self-driving car bill, but Wicker said it still needs a tune-up before Congress hands over the keys.

“We don’t have the legislation at the point where it needs to be just yet,” he said.

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