Tesla and Uber draw scrutiny at Senate hearing on self-driving cars

Tesla and Uber draw scrutiny at Senate hearing on self-driving cars

Several Senators offered sharp criticism of Tesla and Uber during a Commerce Committee hearing on self-driving vehicles on Wednesday.

Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., who chairs the committee, referenced a fatal crash involving an Uber self-driving test vehicle in his opening majority statement:

“Ms. Elaine Herzberg was tragically struck and killed by an Uber test vehicle while crossing the street. Records show that the vehicle detected Ms. Herzberg’s presence 5.6 seconds before the crash, but failed to brake. It is imperative that manufacturers learn from this incident and prevent similar tragedies from happening again.”

More than 80 companies are currently testing automated vehicles on the public roadways in the U.S. today. But only 16 of them have provided self-assessments that were recommended by the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and deemed voluntary by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

At today’s hearing, the heads of both agencies faced questions from senators who were, in turns, excited by the promise of self-driving cars, but concerned about issues from driver and pedestrian safety to traffic.

Now, NTSB is urging NHTSA to put some conditions on developers who want to test, market and deploy semi- or fully-autonomous vehicles on U.S. roads.

“Whatever’s working right now is not working as well as we believe it should,” said Robert Sumwalt, the chairman of the NTSB, which investigates crashes and autonomous vehicles involved in them, but does not have the authority to issue any recalls.

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