Toyota raises concerns about California self-driving oversight

October 11, 2016 4:22 PM EDT

A logo of Toyota Motor Corp is seen at the company's showroom in Tokyo, Japan June 14, 2016. REUTERS/Toru Hanai/File Photo

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By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Toyota Motor Corp official on Tuesday raised concerns about California's plans to require compliance with a planned U.S. autonomous vehicle safety check list, calling it "preposterous."

Hilary Cain, director of technology and innovation policy at Toyota Motor North America, criticized California's proposal to require automakers to submit the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's (NHTSA) 15-point safety check list before testing vehicles.

"If we don't do what's being asked of us voluntarily by NHTSA, we cannot test an automated system in the state of California. That is preposterous and that means testing that is happening today could be halted and that means testing that is about to be started could be delayed," she said at a Capitol Hill forum.

On September 30, California unveiled revised rules that carmakers will have to certify that they complied with the 15-point NHTSA assessment instead of self-driving cars being required to be tested by a third-party, as in the original proposal.

California would allow for the absence of a human driver and a steering wheel in advanced self-driving cars, provided there is two-way communication with the vehicle and NHTSA approval. California will hold a public hearing on the proposal October 19.

President Barack Obama wrote a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette op-ed last month saying the administration is asking automakers "to sign a 15-point safety checklist showing not just the government, but every interested American, how they’re doing it."

Cain also raised concerns about whether the NHTSA guidelines are too vague. "The problem is there is going to be accountability and there is going to be enforcement," Cain said, saying in some areas NHTSA needs to offer more specific guidance. "We need to go through this with a fine tooth comb."

Former NHTSA Administrator David Strickland, who now represents self-driving advocates including Alphabet Inc's Google unit, Ford Motor Co and Uber Technologies [UBER.UL], raised concerns at the forum about whether NHTSA has the expertise to review all of the data they are seeking on self-driving vehicles. Congress may need to "better resource the agency to deal with this new mission," he said.

NHTSA has said it may need authority to conduct "pre-approval" of self-driving technologies before they are marketed. Cain said "the approach is somewhat flawed" and called for more conversation about how consumers can be assured that self-driving cars are safe.

Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx told Reuters last month he strongly believes "we'll get great compliance from the auto industry" on voluntary self-driving guidelines.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Alistair Bell)

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