The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights  & The Leadership Conference Education Fund
The Nation's Premier Civil and Human Rights Coalition

Comment Letter regarding NPRM on NHTSA's Federal Automated Vehicles Policy

Advocacy Letter - 11/22/16

Source: The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights
Recipient: Secretary of Transportation, Anthony Foxx

View a PDF of this letter with footnotes here.

Dear Secretary Foxx,

On behalf of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, a coalition charged by its diverse membership of more than 210 national organizations to promote and protect the civil and human rights of all persons in the United States, we submit these comments on the proposed rulemaking on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Federal Automated Vehicles Policy. As a leader in the movement to ensure fair and accessible transportation polices, The Leadership Conference supports policies that foster investment in transportation projects that enable prosperity for all.

The Leadership Conference works with PolicyLink to co-lead the Transportation Equity Caucus, which supports transportation policy that ensures opportunity. We believe that federal transportation policy is a crucial link that has the ability to connect disadvantaged communities to basic necessities including jobs, schools, housing, and health care. We support transportation investments that advance economic and social equity in America.

We appreciate the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) thoughtful guidance on automated vehicles requesting that the industry adapt reasonable practices and procedures to deploy automated vehicles. We applaud USDOT’s intention to regulate areas including human-vehicle interaction, ethical considerations, crashworthiness, and data privacy and security. Furthermore, while we acknowledge that transportation needs are different in every region, we are pleased to see that USDOT has the intention of creating a consistent standard across states developing policies about automated vehicles.

For The Leadership Conference, transportation policy is a key civil rights issue and one that is critical to connecting the communities that we represent to opportunity. The widespread introduction of automated vehicles may revolutionize our transportation system as we know it. As we integrate this technology into our everyday lives, we will face a unique host of challenges and opportunities. Automated vehicles have the potential to improve road safety while providing greater access and mobility to more Americans, including seniors, people with disabilities, and rural residents. This will require states and local governments to collaborate on policies that guide the implementation of automated vehicles in order to prevent potential negative impacts. Any effective policy must be focused on increasing opportunity and access for all Americans. It is the job of USDOT to make sure that any policy regarding automated vehicles does not increase inequality or expand opportunity gaps. 

Though automated vehicles may provide many benefits in the coming years as this technology develops, there are several points that we would like to emphasize as the federal government begins to devise policies in this new area:

  • Pilot Programs. Pilot programs are an integral part of the rollout of automated vehicle technology, as they allow us to answer difficult questions about what role these vehicles will play in our overall transportation system. We must think about innovative ways to deploy this innovative technology rather than waiting to see what outcomes and consequences arise. It is imperative that USDOT initiate pilot projects in all of the varying regions across the country – urban, rural, and suburban – to obtain an accurate picture of what this type of technology will look like in real time on the ground. Pilot projects are particularly important in considering impacts on all aspects of street traffic and street design. An accurate assessment of automated vehicle activity in these areas is integral to planning for the future. Additionally, these projects will be immensely useful in incentivizing the development of legislation prior to these vehicles being introduced en masse.
  • Loss of Jobs. We anticipate dramatic job loss with the roll-out of automated vehicles. As recently as 2014, truck, delivery, and tractor driving was one of the most common jobs in 29 states, amounting to approximately 3.5 million drivers. This is before considering the additional millions of cab and bus drivers across the country. Millions of Americans in all parts of the country who depend on this industry for their livelihood are now facing what will be a significant shift in employment opportunities. As we incorporate automated vehicles into our transportation system, the federal government must work with industry to enact policies and encourage partnerships that address the pending job loss and that offer drivers opportunities for retraining and reintegration before and during the transition period.
  • Data Collection. The advent of highly autonomous vehicles will directly correlate to an increase in data collection by private entities. As we systematize data collection efforts for automated vehicle use, USDOT must provide guidance that calls for the responsible aggregation and use of user data. Specifically, USDOT must give individuals the opportunity to ensure the accuracy of personal information that will be used to make important decision that will directly affect all Americans. Regulations must also hold private entities accountable for maintaining privacy. Additionally, there must be disaggregation of data to allow for evaluation on the impact and implementation of automated vehicles. Where computerized decision making occurs, USDOT is responsible for actively protecting the interests of those that are disadvantaged or that have historically been the subject of discrimination. This means providing clear limitations and audit mechanisms to ensure that this data collection, and the technology that emerges from it, is used in a responsible and equitable way.
  • Continued Commitment to Ongoing Work. We urge USDOT to emphasize the need to remain focused on investing in disinvested communities, especially those that will not reap the initial benefits of automated vehicle technology. As we continue to innovate, we must not leave low –income people and communities behind. USDOT must discourage practices that divert public resources and goods away from disinvested communities, and away from multimodal transportation. This is an opportunity for USDOT to be strategic about where private funding can be integrated throughout the process so as to continue funding ongoing transportation work in communities where it is needed. USDOT must continue planning for alternate modes of transportation, including bus routes, rail transit, and paths for active transportation, alongside the development of policy to guide automated vehicles.
  • Ethical Concerns. USDOT must keep safety and legality at the forefront of their guidance. Automated vehicles will be programmed to make decisions about loss of life, specifically, which life to save – the driver or a pedestrian – in the event of a crash. As these decisions impact not only the automated vehicle, but also its occupants and surrounding road users, we strongly urge USDOT to encourage a public conversation about this extremely important issue. The introduction of these vehicles will require planning agencies to give great thought to street planning, traffic patterns, and how these areas will be affected by having to accommodate automated vehicles with drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, and non-automated vehicles. It is imperative that we come to a consensus and develop solutions that are broadly acceptable and that diligently take these ethical issues into consideration.

We encourage USDOT to develop an implementation policy that keeps equity in the forefront, particularly where disadvantaged communities are concerned and we urge USDOT to regulate automated vehicles in a way that precludes any unfair impacts on vulnerable communities. We appreciate the opportunity to comment on the proposed guidance, and look forward to continuing to work with USDOT in the coming years as this innovative technology develops. If you have any questions, please contact Emily Chatterjee, Senior Counsel at (202) 466-3648.


Wade Henderson
President & CEO

Nancy Zirkin
Executive Vice President

Our Members