Tech companies — and LeBron James — launch ads promoting driverless car safety

Waymo, Intel and others realize they face a "skeptical public," even as Congress paves the way.

WASHINGTON — Alphabet Inc's self-driving car unit Waymo and several groups are launching a campaign aimed at convincing skeptical Americans of what they say is the value and safety of driverless cars, as Congress considers how it will regulate the technology.

Waymo said on Monday that it was teaming with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, the National Safety Council, and the Federation for Blind Children in a campaign called "Let's Talk Self-Driving."

The campaign says that self-driving cars could help eliminate most alcohol-related crash deaths and allow the blind broader access to personal transportation.

A similar ad from Intel features basketball star LeBron James climbing apprehensively into a self-driving car, then discovering he likes it.

The country is wrangling with how to regulate the rapidly growing technology, with critics arguing that Congress is moving too fast and not ensuring enough safeguards.

Waymo, which began as the Google self-driving car project, said the campaign will begin on Monday in Arizona, where the company is testing self-driving cars. It is set to include digital ads, outdoor billboards, fuel pump advertising and radio spots.

The company declined to say how much the advertising campaign will cost.

Recent surveys show a majority of Americans are unsure about self-driving cars. In March, the American Automobile Association (AAA) said it had found that three-quarters of U.S. drivers said they would be afraid to ride in a self-driving car.

In February, U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao urged "Silicon Valley, Detroit, and all other auto industry hubs to step up and help educate a skeptical public about the benefits of automated technology."

Waymo chief executive John Krafcik said in a blog post: "There's great enthusiasm and curiosity about self-driving cars — and there's some confusion, too." He added that the "technology can help address some of the biggest safety challenges on our roads today."

The federal government just announced that U.S. traffic deaths jumped 5.6 percent in 2016 to a decade-high of 37,461, and pedestrians killed rose 9 percent to 5,987, the highest number since 1990.

On Wednesday, a U.S. Senate panel unanimously gave the green light to a bill aimed at speeding the use of self-driving cars without human controls, a measure that also bars states from imposing regulatory road blocks.

The bill still must clear a full Senate vote, but it appears on track to passage. General Motors, Alphabet, Ford and others have lobbied for the landmark legislation, while auto safety groups have pledged to keep fighting for changes.

Reporting by David Shepardson

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