MRF January 2020 Update
By Andy Kelly
Back in November the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released information on their investigation of the deadly crash that happened in Tempe, Arizona in March of 2018 when an Uber Autonomous Vehicle (AV) ran over a pedestrian. In the NTSB report they found that Uber had shut off the Volvo’s collision avoidance system and the Uber system software did not identify the victim as a pedestrian, did not adequately assess safety risks and the operator of the vehicle was watching a TV show on her phone and was not watching the road. Also the NTSB cited an “inadequate safety culture” at Uber.
After the release of the NTSB report the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation held a hearing entitled “Highly Automated Vehicles: Federal perspectives on the Deployment of Safety Technology”. It is important to note that two United States senators specifically addressed the concerns of motorcycles during the hearing. In a question directed to Joel Szabat, Acting Under Secretary of Transportation for Policy, US Department of Transportation, Senator John Thurman (R-SD) asked, “In developing a regulatory framework for AVs can you speak to how other roadways users such as motorcycles are considered?” The Assistant Secretary responded by saying “Motorcyclists are well incorporated in the development of policy in the department.” Senator Gary Peters (D-MI) echoed Senator Thurman‘s interest in motorcycles when he said, “I am an avid motorcyclist. The number one reason for motorcycle accidents is a car hitting the motorcyclist or a car pulling out in front of motorcyclists.”
Other senators, including Senator Cantwelll (D-WA) raised concern about the current deployment of AV’s without minimum standards from the federal government, “We need some standards.” In response, Robert Sussman, chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board, agreed by saying that “Whatever is working now is not working as well as it should.''
Chairman Sumwalt of the NTSB closed the hearing with this statement “I think that AV technology holds great promise to improve safety but it has to be done properly.''
About the same time as the Senate hearings were being held the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) Vehicle Safety Research and Behavioral Safety Research offices presented information on activities related to the Agency’s research programs. Motorcycles came up in NHTSA’s “Vulnerable and Other Road Users” category. The presentation covered “ Motorcyclists Attitudes on Using High-Visibility gear to Improve Conspicuity.” This was conducted by the Governors Highway Safety Association in conjunction with the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration
MRF President Kirk “Hardtail” Willard stated, “As a motorcyclist it offends me when bureaucrats are discussing various inevitable, emerging vehicle and advanced roadway technologies they default to classifying us as vulnerable and in need some sort of protection. I would rather and especially in the specific case of Autonomous Vehicles we be thoroughly considered and fully recognizable and therefore not needing extra protection. As with anything affecting motorcyclists this is another example where the Motorcycle Riders Foundation will demand we remain a significant part of the strategy for roadway users.”
I hope to see a lot of you at the Leadership & Legislative Seminar the end of January. The MRF will have a booth set up in the lobby of the hotel. Stop by and chat with us.