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Autonomous Vehicles

Self-Driving Vehicles Prompt Subcommittee Debate About Appropriate Actions of National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

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WASHINGTON, June 28, 2017 – Self-driving vehicles will be able to help the disabled and elderly reach their destinations, said David Strickland, counsel for the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets, at a hearing on Capitol Hill on Tuesday.

The hearing was hosted by the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection subcommittee of the Energy and Commerce Committee, and the hearing was called “Self-Driving Vehicle Legislation.”

During the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Bob Latta, R-Ohio, said that with traffic fatalities on the rise, self-driving vehicles might be a way to help address the problem.

“Last year there were over 40,000 fatalities and more than two million injuries on our nation’s highways,” Latta said. “Our goal today is to enact the right policies to encourage self-driving technologies that can drastically reduce those numbers.”

Latta said that self-driving vehicles will be a focus of the subcommittee for the years to come. As the technology advances, the need for oversight will increase, he said.

“The first step is to set the broad outlines to bring better safety and mobility to everyone,” Latta said. “We want the government to work actively with industry. It is important that we have these discussions in the early stages of innovation so that we do not limit the potential benefits.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Illinois, said safety requirements for self-driving vehicles rely on testing, responsible deployment and consumer confidence. She said absent in the bills being proposed for self-driving vehicles is any direction from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. She added that Republicans aren’t proposing any requirements for a federal standard, and the legislation the subcommittee is working on should be a vehicle for “safety today and safety tomorrow.”

Rep. Gregg Harper, R-Mississippi, explained how self-driving vehicles could help families by referring to his adult son with disabilities. Although Harper said his wife makes sure their son gets to work and back safely, self-driving vehicles could help him get to where he needs to go easier.

Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Greg Walden, R-Oregon, said he saw how new technology in vehicles could save lives firsthand when he and his wife were once going somewhere.

“I was driving down the highway,” Walden said. “She was napping, and a big, black bird flew in front. The vehicle automatically braked.”

Walden said texting and driving is killing people, and that self-driving vehicles could help save lives. He also brought up the question if self-driving vehicles should stop at state lines because he said each state will have a different system for it.

Frank Pallone, D-New Jersey, said that they are currently looking at 14 legislative bills with the deployment issues of self-driving vehicles.

“I support efforts that help get new technological advances on the roads faster, but we must review each bill through our safety lens,” Pallone said. “Only if we keep ‘safety first’ as our mantra can we get these initiatives to a place where they are ready to become law.”

Pallone said that it was troubling how little the subcommittee had heard from the NHTSA.

“Despite Congressional mandates, NHTSA wants to stop important safety laws,” Pallone said. “Inexcusably, the agency is resisting critical safety measures designed to ensure blind pedestrians know a quiet car is nearby or that parents or grandparents do not unintentionally back-over their little children.”

Strickland, in testimony, said he believes proposed legislation, dubbed “Let NHTSA Enforce Automated Vehicle Driving Regulations Act,” or LEAD’R Leader Act, is a first step for self-driving vehicles. States should be discouraged from writing a patchwork of inconsistent laws and regulations, he said.

Will Wallace, policy analyst for Consumers Union, said policy makers should set clear expectations and that self-driving cars must improve safety. He urged the subcommittee to embrace technological innovation and accountability.

Wallace said exemptions from federal safety standards should be limited to where the automated driving system can safely replace a human driver’s role. He also said consumers should know what kind of data the self-driving vehicles will be collecting from them.

Alan Morrison, Lerner Family Associate Dean for Public Interest and Public Service Law at George Washington University Law School, said all of the draft bills being proposed are inadequate.

“These would enact major changes in the laws,” Morrison said. “There would be less safety and more preemption, and it’s all in the name of technological advances.”

Morrison said the NHTSA currently has no rules on testing. He said the so-called LEAD’R Act limits states’ ability to do anything unless identical to something the NHTSA has done – and that NHTSA isn’t doing anything.

He said the NHTSA can make all information submitted by automotive companies confidential, and no one else will know if the vehicles are safe.

(Photo of self-driving vehicle by smoothgroover22 used with permission.)

Autonomous Vehicles

Proposed Spectrum Reallocation Could Stifle Global Competitiveness, According to Automotive Experts

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Photo of self driving car by Grendelkhan used with permission

June 10, 2020 — The Federal Communications Commission’s proposal of redistributing spectrum on the 5.9 GigaHertz (GHz) band drew criticism from auto industry experts on a Federal Communications Bar Associations webinar Tuesday. 

The agency proposed repurposing the lower 45 megahertz of the band for unlicensed operations to support broadband applications. 

If enacted, the new rule would take a second look at spectrum allocation on the 5.9 GHz band and propose appropriate changes to ensure the spectrum is employed to its best use. 

The 5.9 GHz band (5.850-5.925 GHz) has been reserved for use by dedicated short-range communications for the past two decades, which is a service of Intelligent Transportation Systems designed to enable vehicle-related communications. Unfortunately, DSRC technology has evolved slowly and has not been widely deployed. 

Under the newly proposed rule, the FCC would continue to dedicate spectrum in the upper 30 megahertz of the 5.9 GHz band to meet current and future transportation and vehicle safety needs, while repurposing the lower 45 megahertz of the band for unlicensed operations, such as Wi-Fi.

Since the initial deployment of DSRC technology, C-V2X technology was created, allowing vehicles to communicate with each other, as well as infrastructure, bikers and pedestrians. 

According to Matthew Hardy, program director for planning and policy for AASHTO, C-V2X technology far surpasses the capabilities presented by DSRC. Hardy argued the technology is crucial because it can prevent life-threatening crashes from occurring.

Sean Conway, a partner at Wilkinson Barker Knauer, LLP, contended that retaining all 75 MGHz is necessary for innovation, as 25 MGHz in the upper band would be utilized by 4G C-V2X, while another 50 MGHz in the lower band would be necessary to advance 5G C-V2X. 

Angel Preston, director of safety at the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, argued that the actions proposed by the FCC could hinder global competitiveness, as the U.S. is decreasing C-V2X technology deployment while other countries are increasing construction. 

Preston cited that 13 Chinese automotive makers committed to utilizing C-V2X technology in their models in coming years.

Opposition to the automotive experts was raised by Danielle Pineres, vice president of the Internet & Television Association, who argued that no more than 40 MGHz should be reserved for automotive safety, alluding to the fact that the 5.9 GHz band has been relatively unutilized for more than 20 years.

FCC inaction on the matter continues to stifle the progression of both broadband deployment and the automobile industry.   

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Autonomous Vehicles

Broadband Roundup: Tesla Cars Ain’t Driverless, Suspicious Bernie Sanders Facebook Posts, ReConnect Awards

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Photo of NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt by the National Transportation Safety Board

According to a Forbes article by Alan Ohnsman, U.S. safety investigators are calling for greater regulation of Teslas following the release of several investigative reports detailing several Tesla crashes due to the cars faulty autopilot mode.

In March 2018 in Mountain View, California, Walter Huang was playing a game on his phone as his Tesla Model X barreled down the highway. His car’s autopilot mode failed to detect a traffic barrier and crashed head-on into the concrete, killing Huang and trapping two other cars in a vortex of metal.

Investigators of the National Transportation Safety Board, an independent government body, have found fault with the company’s ’partially automated” label  in light of the accidents. They have also proposed pro-active steps Tesla and the Transportation Department should take to save lives from faulty technology.

NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said at the conclusion of a hearing on Tuesday in Washington: “We urge Tesla to work on improving its Autopilot technology and for NHTSA to fulfill its oversight responsibility to ensure that corrective action is taken when necessary. It’s time to stop enabling drivers in any partially automated vehicle to pretend that they have driverless cars. Because they don’t have driverless cars.”

Facebook investigating suspicious posts linked to Bernie Sanders supporters

Facebook is investigating accounts linked to suspicious posts that support Bernie Sanders, according to an article on The Wall Street Journal by Emily Glazer and Dustin Voz.

This news comes after U.S. Intelligence has confirmed that Russian operatives are using information to try to get Bernie Sanders nominated by the Democratic primary.

Facebook has yet to substantiate these claims.

“We investigate each credible claim we receive, just as we did in this instance when an outside researcher contacted us,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone told the Journal. “To date, we have not been able to substantiate the researcher’s claims and we have not been notified by the intelligence community.”

USDA’s ReConnect grant program makes more awards

The Agriculture Department this week announced the awarding of $9.1 million, $3.3 million, and $2.2 million for broadband in rural communities in South Carolina, Montana, and Nevada, respectively.

The funds were dispersed via USDA’s ReConnect program attempting to shrink the digital divide between rural and non-rural communities.

“High-speed broadband e-Connectivity is critical to increasing access to health care and educational opportunities and strengthening economic development efforts in rural communities,” South Carolina Rural Development State Director Debbie Turbeville said.

“Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue, USDA is committed to being a strong partner to rural communities in deploying this critical infrastructure, because we know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

The Reconnect program was passed in 2018. It allocated $600 million to USDA to expand broadband infrastructure and services in rural America. Since last summer, the department has received applications requesting a total of $1.4 billion in funding.

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Autonomous Vehicles

Pro-Tech and Disability Advocates Criticize Time-Consuming Process for Autonomous Vehicle Safety at House Hearing

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Photo of Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing by Adrienne Patton

WASHINGTON, February 12, 2020 – Technology advocates and disability activists on Tuesday used a hearing of an Energy and Commerce subcommittee to criticize the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s time-consuming process to alter the rules surrounding autonomous vehicles.

Consumer Technology Association CEO Gary Shapiro and National Federation of the Blind President Mark Riccobono agreed. “Accessibility and innovation go hand in hand,” Riccobono said. Companies are encouraged to create and innovate if exemptions are available, Riccobono stated.

Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Cathy Chase said the NHTSA is in need of additional help as its budget continues to decrease. The regulation for automated vehicles doesn’t exist and “minimum performance standards” are imperative, said Chase.

Chase advocated for an increased focus on safety right away. In her written statement, Chase wrote, “the race to ‘build it first’ should never overshadow the need to ensure readiness for broad public use in real life scenarios.”

But Shapiro said exemptions are crucial for innovation because automated vehicles will save lives regardless, and performance and regulation will never be able to guarantee no deaths.

In 2018, more than 100 people died daily from car crashes, said John Bozzella, CEO of Alliance for Automotive Innovation. He asked congress to consider a “regulatory framework” that would help decrease fatalities through safe automated vehicles.

American Association of Justice State Affairs Counsel Daniel Hinkle said automated vehicle legislation should hold producers accountable for damages or injuries inflicted on AV customers. “The difference between an automated vehicle and a human driven vehicle is a promise—a promise from the manufacturer of the automated driving system that their system can perform the entire dynamic driving task without in-vehicle supervision,” Hinkle said.

Hinkle also asked that the public “not be forced into arbitration.” “The one-sided and secretive nature of forced arbitration is established at the onset wherein companies, rather than individuals, choose the private company which will administer the forced arbitration proceeding, the payment terms, and the rules,” stated Hinkle.

Riccobono boasted the unparalleled prospects automated vehicles would open to the blind community. “100 percent of accidents today are caused by sighted drivers,” said Riccobono to laughter.

Riccobono is pleased that accessibility has been included in the automated vehicle discussion because it is usually an afterthought, he said. He asked congress not to enforce regulatory restrictions that might exclude the blind from accessing automated vehicles.

Not only will automated vehicles provide feasible transportation for the blind community, but increase workforce participation, said Riccobono.

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