Warning Riders May Be Liable with CA DMV Self-Driving Regs from GM

Language adopted from a General Motors suggestion by the California Department of Motor Vehicles in its revised proposed autonomous vehicle regulations would “let robot carmakers railroad consumers” into being liable for car crashes when the robot driver fails and the rule exceeds DMV’s authority, Consumer Watchdog warned today.

 “Exceeding your authority, DMV’s latest proposed regulation, contradicting earlier rules, now puts the owner of the robot car on the hook for accidents as carmakers can make the claim that the owner didn’t maintain the vehicle to the manufacturer’s standard,” wrote Consumer Watchdog’s President Jamie Court and Privacy & Technology Project Director John M. Simpson in a letter to the DMV. “That’s an outrageous and unlawful overreach.”

“Consumer Watchdog advises that you not succumb to GM’s power grab, but follow the law,” the letter said. “We urge you to withdraw Sec. 228.28 as you do not have authority to propose it.  Failure to do so will most certainly result in a time-consuming legal challenge to your regulations.”

Consumer Watchdog objected to language added to Sec. 228.28 of the revised proposed autonomous vehicle regulations at GM’s suggestion. It adds the amendment that a robot car manufacturer is responsible for technology failures only when the robot car has “been maintained in compliance with manufacturer’s specifications and any modifications to the vehicle that affect the operation of the vehicle’s autonomous technology are in compliance with the manufacture’s specifications.”

Consumer Watchdog, the Consumer Attorneys of California, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (ACIC) and the American Insurance Association (AIA), who are rarely on the same page, all agree that the manufacturer friendly proposal offered by General Motors is an overreach of DMV’s authority, Consumer Watchdog noted.

“What is extremely troubling is that DMV added this amendment at the request of General Motors.  The revised language is virtually identical to the language proposed by General Motors Chief Counsel and Policy Director Paul Hemmersbaugh in a letter to DMV on April 24, 2017,” Court and Simpson wrote.

The situation is made worse by how the GM suggestion came about, Consumer Watchdog said. Court and Simpson wrote:

“It is the result of the ongoing and troubling federal revolving door between the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the auto industry. Before Hemmersbaugh proposed self-serving language on GM’s behalf, he was general counsel at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.  He wrote the legal opinion in response to a Google query in 2016 that said that a computer system can qualify as the legal driver of a car. He most assuredly had dealings with the DMV when he was a NHTSA regulator.  Now he lobbies for General Motors.”

Consumer Watchdog explained the impact of the new language. Court and Simpson wrote:

“Suppose, for example, mud splashed on a vital sensor, obstructing how the robot technology ‘saw’ oncoming traffic and there was a crash.  The manufacturer could claim it was not at fault, because the owner didn’t maintain the vehicle in compliance with the manufacturer’s standards when they failed to clean off the mud fast enough. Worse, consider a case where the robot car software was obviously to blame and mud was not wiped from a sensor.  The company could still claim the robot car hadn’t been properly maintained and deny liability even though the alleged ‘maintenance failure’ had nothing to do with the crash.”

Read Consumer Watchdog’s letter to the DMV here:  http://www.consumerwatchdog.org/sites/default/files/2017-11/LtrDMV111417.pdf