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Remarks on safety and innovation at the 2023 Automated Road Transportation Symposium

Good morning, everyone. Consumer Reports is an independent nonprofit organization. We’re widely known for our rigorous testing and ratings, and we advocate for public policies and company practices that put consumers first. I’m on our policy and advocacy team based out of Washington, D.C. Among other things, we campaign for road safety and work on matters before the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Congress.

Many of you are here today because you’re deeply interested in automation and you think there is enormous potential for automated vehicles (AVs) to improve safety and mobility. Many of you do the work you do because you can imagine a future in which your family and others close to you, including those who do not drive, see real, tangible benefits in their daily lives from the technology. In that world, your loved ones can get around more easily. They’re less likely to be put in danger by people speeding, driving impaired, or using their phones behind the wheel. In this world, AVs serve the public broadly, and they’re happy about it.

Making that future a reality depends on continued innovation, and many presenters at this conference have detailed the ways in which the technology is advancing. It’s come a long way. Even on the cars evaluated by my colleagues at the CR Auto Test Center, we’re seeing many more vehicles offer some driving automation in the form of active driving assistance systems, and—even as some of them need much stronger driver attention safeguards—these systems are becoming more capable all the time. People at this conference are right when they say that driving automation is here, it’s happening now, and our public policies need to reflect that.

But that doesn’t mean the right path to take is to focus on clearing the decks or limiting what transportation officials can do to keep the public safe. It doesn’t mean picking up the proposals laid out five or six years ago by Congress, which are severely misguided and outdated based on what we know today.

Rather, safety and innovation must go hand in hand. For AVs to serve the public broadly, and for the potential of the technology and the industry to be realized, people need to be able to trust that there is rigorous independent oversight and meaningful accountability. They need to know that their representatives in government are not just able to promote innovation but also that they can proactively reduce hazards and intervene effectively to protect safety when necessary.

In particular, for safety and innovation to go hand in hand, our public policies should emphasize the following:

  • Effective and efficient data reporting. NHTSA has gotten the ball rolling through the Standing General Order, and it sounds like the forthcoming AV STEP proposal will address this issue as well. What’s vital for the public is for there to be transparency and collaboration when it comes to safety. Protect legitimate trade secrets, of course, but NHTSA should get all the safety data it needs from companies for both standards-setting and compliance purposes. NHTSA shouldn’t have to fight companies at every turn for them to report data that would help make our roads safer. It’s time to sort this out and we’re glad NHTSA seems to agree.


  • A much stronger and more agile NHTSA. The agency’s work is carried out by dedicated safety professionals who simply have too much on their plate, and in some cases, they lack the legal tools they would need to take action more quickly. The safety of our roads requires much more timely action from NHTSA, and Congress should vastly expand the agency’s available resources, including to ensure that it has the quantity of technical experts on board that it needs. The agency also should be granted new authorities to make it much easier and less resource-intensive to craft standards and carry out enforcement actions.


  • Preservation of state and local authority. State and local officials should not be prevented from taking action to act in their constituents’ best interest in areas where there isn’t already a binding safety standard. Those officials must be able to manage the operation of AVs on their streets to address concerns such as safety, accessibility, pollution, and congestion—just as they do for traditional vehicles.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak on behalf of Consumer Reports, and I look forward to the panel discussion.