A broad coalition representing public health and safety professionals, bicyclists, pedestrians, smart growth advocates, consumers, environmentalists, law enforcement, first responders, and individuals with disabilities is calling on the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to fulfill its legal obligation to ensure effective oversight for the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles.

In a letter, the coalition accused the Department and its safety agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), of dereliction of duty with regards to guiding the development of driverless car technology, to the detriment of members of the society.

“The Department and its safety agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), have chosen to be detached spectators instead of engaged safety regulators during one of the most crucial and critical times in the history of automobiles.  Unfortunately, inaction and indifference have grave and dangerous consequences for everyone — passengers in driverless cars, other motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians and members of the disability community.”

Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy and Technology Project Director, John M. Simpson, said “Secretary Chao’s do-nothing, hands-off approach is unconscionable,” asking if she would be willing to commute regularly to work in a “robot car.”

In the letter, the coalition pointed out that Congress created NHTSA in 1966 because relying solely on market forces to manufacture and sell safe vehicles was a failed approach to addressing the mounting death and injury toll on the highways.

The group further urged DOT to implement strict regulations to ensure safety.

“We urge DOT, under your watch, to encourage and oversee the development and deployment of life changing and lifesaving motor vehicle technologies by issuing minimum performance standards instead of ‘voluntary guidelines,’ providing consumers with essential information on the capabilities and limitations of autonomous vehicles, and rigorously enforcing current legal mandates for industry to immediately report problems.  Regardless of Congressional activity on AVs, DOT’s obligation to carry out its mission of ensuring a safe transportation system must be met.”