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Consumer Watchdog: Google’s Autonomous Vehicles Pose Public Safety Threat

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April 7, 2016—Google’s proposal to have its autonomous vehicles allowed to skirt U.S. auto safety laws threatens public safety, Consumer Watchdog said Thursday in a letter to Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)

Consumer Watchdog cites a lack of disclosure over Google’s autonomous car crashes, their software algorithms, and their vulnerability to hackers as reason for asking the Department of Transportation and NHTSA to require Google to answer ten questions about its autonomous cars within 30 days. 

"At the same time that Google wants to blow past federal safety requirements, the company has refused to provide detailed information that would enable the public, the press and policymakers to assess the safety and security of its autonomous cars," Harvey Rosenfield, Consumer Watchdog founder, said. "NHTSA's job is to make sure the nation's streets and highways are safe for motorists and pedestrians, not to promote robot cars or help Google's lobbyists circumvent the law. Before jumping on board the Google express, NHTSA should initiate a serious and careful public investigation into autonomous vehicles that begins with requiring Google to publicly answer questions about what its autonomous car technology can and cannot do."

Google sent a letter to Foxx in March requesting support for congressional legislation that would allow the company to avoid compliance with federal and state requirements to prove certain federal safety standards. 

Consumer Watchdog’s 10 proposed questions for which it wants Google to provide public answers: 

1. We understand the self-driving car cannot currently handle many common occurrences
on the road, including heavy rain or snow, hand signals from a traffic cop, or gestures to
communicate from other drivers. Will Google publish a complete list of real-life
situations the cars cannot yet understand, and how you intend to deal with them?
2. What does Google envision happening if the computer “driver” suddenly goes offline
with a passenger in the car, if the car has no steering wheel or pedals and the passenger
cannot steer or stop the vehicle?
3. Your programmers will literally make life and death decisions as they write the
vehicles’ algorithms. Will Google agree to publish its software algorithms, including
how the company’s “artificial car intelligence” will be programmed to decide what
happens in the event of a potential collision? For instance, will your robot car prioritize
the safety of the occupants of the vehicle or pedestrians it encounters?
4. Will Google publish all video from the car and technical data such as radar and lidar
reports associated with accidents or other anomalous situations? If not, why not?
5. Will Google publish all data in its possession that discusses, or make projections
concerning, the safety of driverless vehicles?
6. Do you expect one of your robot cars to be involved in a fatal crash? If your robot car
causes the crash, how would you be held accountable?
7. How will Google prove that self-driving cars are safer than today’s vehicles?
8. Will Google agree not to store, market, sell, or transfer the data gathered by the self-driving
car, or utilize it for any purpose other than navigating the vehicle?
9. NHTSA’s performance standards are actually designed to promote new life-saving
technology. Why is Google trying to circumvent them? Will Google provide all data in 
its possession concerning the length of time required to comply with the current NHTSA
safety process?
10. Does Google have the technology to prevent malicious hackers from seizing control
of a driverless vehicle or any of its systems?

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