A little bragging - The Washington Post published my letter to the editor on Friday, Feb. 19, 2021. Just including it in case anyone is in need of a transportation rant about safer roads.
Acronyms for today
GAO is a legislative branch government agency that provides auditing, evaluation, and investigative services for the United States Congress. It is the supreme audit institution of the federal government of the United States.
Disclaimer/Explanation: Please note that anonymous comments and ones where the author's background is undeclared or not easily discovered are counted as "regular people" unless it becomes apparent that the commenter has professional expertise, which then shifts the comment into that category. Also note that the comments tally includes those comments summarized below in this blog post. All categorizations are my own and might seem random or wrong to someone else. I am not an engineer, an automotive geek, or a software expert.
Comments are due by Feb. 1, 2021.
Total comments as of Feb. 15, 2021 - 649 - The math comes to a difference of 631 unread comments. 🤯😲 😨😱
This is a tally of those comments I have read. Needless to say, I have a year or more of reading ahead or I can forget this. What keeps needling me, though, is the thought that no one but a bored, overworked, government functionary is reading these. I am respecting those who have submitted comments by giving them a thoughtful read and summarizing them.
Anonymous - 2
Companies or Organizations - 8
Individuals with professional expertise - 6
Regular people - 6
Regular people who want increased safety - 5
Regular people who do not believe AVs will be safer than human drivers - 1
Regular people who do not want regulation to constrain innovation - 1
Spam comments - 1
Instructions for submitting comments can be found in the ANPRM.
Please note that these comments are not necessarily representative of the opinions of the US population; rather they come from corporate or non-profit entities or professionals with an interest in AVs, or people with the time, energy, and space in their lives attend public meetings - in this case to devote attention to Federal Register notices. The regulation-making process is, if not hidden, then placed out of the way in the bowels of federal agencies, and is oft forgotten when we vote or choose where we participate in our democracy.
I will get a guest blogger for this one. This guy is obviously an engineer who only writes in engineer speak. It does seem like he has something valuable to say. I will ask around.
Humanetics is the leading crash dummies manufacturer, at least according to itself. I will be frank that the whole point of an AV, in terms of safety, is to avoid a crash, leaving the crash dummies to ride along and check their fake smartphones and drink their pretend lattes. That said, there's no reason to get rid of the crash dummies.
Humanetics requests that we retain the particular FMVSS regulatory frameworks and certain equirements, such as gender-based crash dummy tests.
Humanetics encourages the agency to implement a regulatory framework soon. It is not too soon and would not inhibit the advancement of technology. There are clearly certain basic driving scenarios which are anticipated to be very common, and all manufacturers would recognize these as critical and it is not too soon to implement a regulatory framework. As previously mentioned, these regulatory protocols could be supplemented with voluntary measures to control and manage a broader range of driving / test scenarios. Those voluntary scenarios / tests should remain fluid as the technology evolves.
Though Humanetics favors employment of the FMVSS, it does suggest an avenue for using alternative protocols. It envisions "a parallel path with regulatory testing with an option for a manufacturer to provide evidence supporting an alternate test protocol based on their technology is appropriate. Both the regulatory protocol and any alternate path should both utilize physical testing to ensure the performance of the vehicle."
Now only 629 comments, give or take, to read. Why does that song 100 Bottles of Beer on the Wall, sung on every middle school trip, come to mind?
Comment from Mollie D'Agostino on behalf of the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy
The narrow scoping of this ANPRM may be counter to a more comprehensive AV framework that might holistically address safety in such a way that it also tackles other DOT priorities, including climate resilience, mobility for underserved individuals and communities, and accessibility for all, including people with physical or cognitive disabilities. A narrow AV or ADS framework may obscure or even impinge on the Department’s broader transportation, mobility and sustainability objectives.
- Clarify terminology - The Policy Institute asks NHTSA what safety means exactly and does it include security, shared-use vehicles, as noted examples.
- Consider the possible safety benefits of fleet-based, shared-use AV transportation service. The comment posits that reliable maintenance might increase reliable performance and safety.
- Establish a continuous monitoring system through data collection - The comment states that there are examples at the USDOT, specifically the DOT Secure Data Commons, and in the private sector.
- Set required performance standards - "Binding (rather than voluntary) performance-based ADS safety standards within the FMVSS will likely result in more consistent and improved safety outcomes. Performance-based standards, rather than design-based standards, such as safety benchmarks, will be more flexible and allow the industry to evolve in a manner that preserves safety and consistency."
- Research to ensure business models that increase safety - The comment states, "more research is needed to assess safety outcomes for these different business models and to understand the expanded role of AV manufacturers in ensuring reliable ongoing performance of the ADS and vehicles whether they are operated by individuals or fleets."
- Research to identify or set standards for emergency communications, a "panic button."
- Collaborate with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) - The Policy Institute includes passenger interfaces in this request. "NHTSA should work with FTA to consider how public transit applications will impact safety, and whether AVs for transit use will meet requirements under the Americans With Disability Act [(ADA)]. ... Both safety and security performance standards could be considered for shared AVs to encourage consistency among commercial service operators, so passengers can become familiar with security practices."
- Define safety and test for it to include people with disabilities, whom are, the comment points out, 17 percent of the population. Even now, testing performed reflects average sizes . The comment offers a list of examples of specific metrics that might ensure AV safety for people with disabilities. These include physical access, such as wheelchair ramps and securement, as well as communications access. For a petite woman and an advocate for accessible transportation for people with disabilities, this comment is very significant. In my opinion, this deserves a long quote from the comment:
The AV Safety Framework should consider the safety considerations for passengers with disabilities, including those who may use wheelchairs for personal mobility, or whom currently require aids or drivers to assist them with many aspects of travel. Care must also be taken to consider the needs of riders with other disabilities who are not in wheelchairs. More information is needed to build a concrete and qualitative understanding of the needs of people with all types of disabilities, and DOT should convene NHTSA, FHWA, FTA, and other relevant agencies to consider how a proposed AV safety framework might improve mobility for disabled passengers.In this vein the comment requests that we consider everyone, not merely those affluent or able enough to own a vehicle and maintain it. The comment integrates into its requests for research that we examine ramifications for people of color, people with disabilities, and people who bike and walk (pedestrians, yes).