In an inadvertent parody of Claude Rains’ assertion that he is shocked, shocked that gambling is going on, it’s alleged by Consumer Watchdog that the credibility of the autonomous vehicle policy issued last year by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – aka NHTSA – is undermined because former NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind has taken a job with autonomous vehicle developer Zoox.
Bet on the snowball traversing the nether regions un-melted before thinking that the revolving door in Washington is going to change directions. Special interests continue to capture and co-opt regulators.
NHTSA’s Federal Automated Vehicles Policy was issued last September. (Controversial Federal Guidelines for Autonomous Vehicles Out) A key provision is a voluntary 15-point safety assessment, instead of enforceable regulations including new Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that alleged consumer advocates have called for before companies are allowed to deploy autonomous cars on public roads.
During 2015, 35,092 people died in U.S. traffic crashes and 2.4 million people were injured. DOT – the parent agency of NHTSA – says 94% of crashes are caused in some way by human choice or error. Automation in vehicles might prevent many of the crashes that are caused by unsafe driving, potentially saving tens of thousands of lives each year.
The primary focus of the policy is on highly automated vehicles, or those in which the vehicle can take full control of driving in at least some circumstances. Portions of the policy also apply to lower levels of automation, including some of the driver-assistance systems already being deployed by automakers today.
Last May Consumer Watchdog called on Rosekind and Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to “slam the revolving door” and pledge not to work as an employee or consultant to developers of self-driving autonomous vehicles for at least seven years after leaving their respective positions. They refused.
After their refusal, Consumer Watchdog, Consumers for Auto Reliability, the Center for Auto Safety and former NHTSA Administrator Joan Claybrook in July called on President Obama to ask Foxx and Rosekind to make the pledge. He did not.
Consumer Watchdog said the ongoing revolving door between top NHTSA staffers and the auto industry they supposedly regulate is not only “unseemly and unethical, but fundamentally undermines public trust in the agency’s rules and regulations.”
Zoox in CW’s view is a relatively secretive Silicon Valley company developing autonomous self-driving technology. It is one of 27 companies that have permits from the California Department of Motor Vehicles to test robot cars on public roads.
“It’s simply outrageous that companies using our public streets as their private laboratories are playing by rules crafted by people who end up working for them,” said Simpson. “Who is protecting our safety?”
Rosekind’s job at Zoox will be to lead the company’s efforts to “safely develop, test and deploy autonomous vehicles,” the company said. He is not the first Obama Administration top NHTSA staffer to join the industry the agency supposedly regulates.
General Motors hired NHTSA’s chief counsel, Paul Hemmersbaugh, in January to serve as policy director with a focus on “transportation as a service.” Hemmersbaugh’s resume says he is the principal author of the NHTSA federal automated vehicles policy, according to Reuters.
“Selling out to industry for a well-paying job has become standard operating procedure and benefit for top NHTSA employees. NHTSA is like a job fair for the automakers,” said Simpson.
Consumer Watchdog’s call to Rosekind and Foxx to end the revolving door was made on the eve of NHTSA’s second public meeting on autonomous vehicle technology. That’s when it was revealed that former NHTSA Administrator David L. Strickland would serve as counsel and spokesman for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, comprised of Google, Lyft, Uber, Ford and Volvo.
Ron Medford, former Deputy Director of NHTSA, is Director of Safety for Waymo, Google’s self-driving car company. Chan Lieu, who served as Director of Government Affairs, Policy and Strategic Planning at NHTSA, is at Venable, LLP, like Strickland and lobbies for Google. Daniel Smith, who ran NHTSA’s Office of Vehicle Safety, is now a Google consultant.
NHTSA’s revolving door is not a recent development, Consumer Watchdog noted that from 1984 to 2010, according to USA Today, the Department of Transportation inspector general found that 40 officials left the safety agency for jobs with automakers, their law firms or auto industry consultants. The group included four administrators, two deputy administrators, seven associate administrators and two chief counsels. In addition, 23 auto industry executives moved into top NHTSA jobs from 1999 to 2010.
“This ongoing abuse has got to end,” said Simpson. “If the public is to have any trust in government rules, the regulators simply cannot go to work for the companies they once regulated.”
NHTSA Policy – Exec Summary
- 15 Point Safety Assessment –The Vehicle Performance Guidance for Automated Vehicles for manufacturers, developers and other organizations includes a 15 point “Safety Assessment” for the safe design, development, testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles.
- Model State Policy – This section presents a distinction between Federal and State responsibilities for regulation of highly automated vehicles. It suggests recommended policy areas for states to consider with a goal of generating a consistent national framework for the testing and deployment of autonomous vehicles.
- NHTSA’s Current Regulatory Tools – This discussion outlines NHTSA’s current regulatory tools that can be used to ensure the safe development of new technologies, such as interpreting current rules to allow for greater flexibility in design and providing limited exemptions to allow for testing of non-traditional vehicle designs in a timelier fashion.
- Modern Regulatory Tools – This discussion identifies new regulatory tools and statutory authorities that policymakers may consider in the future to aid the safe and efficient deployment of new autonomous technologies.