Bicycle Coalition

By Benjamin Harris

With Autonomous vehicles becoming a reality across the country, the auto industry and Silicon Valley are pushing lawmakers to free them from state safety standards. Sponsors of Senate Bill 1885 the AV START ACT, also known as the Automated Vehicle Bill which is currently being pushed through the Senate, are mostly from automotive states like Michigan and Ohio, who are looking to bring the automated vehicle industry to their regions. They’re citing implementations in China and India, and warn of the US falling behind.

The concerns, however, begin with both the AV START Act pending in the Senate and also a House bill passed last fall, streamline regulations and would prevent states from imposing tougher safety and performance standards.

Consumer advocates are concerned that the bill in its current state does not offer enough safety protections. The AV START Act has the ability to fill our roads with relatively unproven driverless vehicles that fail to meet federal safety rules.

It’s questionable at best whether the technology is in fact ready to be implemented to a larger scale. There are indications that Automated Vehicles have difficulty detected and reacting to smaller moving objects, such as:

  • Bicyclists
  • Pedestrians
  • Wheelchairs
  • First Responders
  • Road Construction and Maintenance Workers
  • Animals

Automated vehicles do a great job monitoring other cars, and while there have been some improvements with identifying pedestrians and animals, bicycles continue to be a challenge. In fact, UC Berkeley research engineer Steven Shladover says “bicycles are probably the most difficult detection problem that autonomous vehicle systems face.”

The bill only requires automated vehicles have a “sense of objects, motorcyclists, bicyclists, pedestrians, and animals in or crossing the path of travel through the automated driving system.”  This vague language does not persuade or encourage advances in protecting vulnerable road users.

Readers of this blog will remember that an automated vehicle killed a person in Tempe, Arizona, walking a bicycle.

As we noted then, “very little is known, or is being reported, about the technology that presumably failed in the death of [traffic victim] Herzberg. What we do know is that the car did not stop, swerve or slow down to avoid Herzberg the way a human being might’ve. It seems to have not registered the human being walking on the side of the road.”

If this bill is not passed by the end of the year, it will expire, which will present a great opportunity for improvement.

However it appears the Senate may be preparing to vote on this bill as early as this week.

We urge members and safety advocates to contact their Senators and ask them to vote NO on the AV START Act. The League of American Bicyclists has already begun a campaign to help advocates reach out to their senators, asking them to vote NO on the AV START Act. 

Through advocacy and education, the Bicycle Coalition leads the movement to make bicycling a safe and fun way to get around for anyone in Greater Philadelphia. We’re a member-funded organization, and we can’t advocate for building out the region’s bicycle network without your support. Join or donate today to partner with us and make your ride better.

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