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NHTSA orders crash reporting for all vehicles with driver-assist technology

The agency said it will look for common patterns that could affect safety

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Photo (c) Sjo - Getty Images
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has issued a Standing General Order that requires manufacturers and drivers to report serious accidents to the agency if the vehicle is “equipped with SAE Level 2 advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) or SAE Levels 3-5 automated driving systems (ADS).”

The agency is taking this action after a number of accidents involving Teslas in which the cars’ Autopilot system was engaged. Tesla has repeatedly warned drivers that the system is not designed for autonomous driving and that both hands must be kept on the wheel at all times.

By collecting information about these accidents NHTSA said it can maintain a database of incidents and their causes and the role if any, a driver-assist technology played in accidents.

“NHTSA’s core mission is safety. By mandating crash reporting, the agency will have access to critical data that will help quickly identify safety issues that could emerge in these automated systems,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s acting administrator. “In fact, gathering data will help instill public confidence that the federal government is closely overseeing the safety of automated vehicles.” 

Report within 24 hours

Under the new order, operators, manufacturers, and law enforcement must report within a day when there’s a serious accident involving a driver-assist vehicle. Specifically, it applies to “a Level 2 ADAS or Levels 3-5 ADS-equipped vehicle that also involves a hospital-treated injury, a fatality, a vehicle tow-away, an airbag deployment, or a vulnerable road user such as a pedestrian or bicyclist.”

A wide range of vehicles will fall under the order. Level 2 ADAS is an increasingly common feature on many new vehicles and provides driver assist functions that combine technologies, like lane-centering assistance and adaptive cruise control, where the vehicle is able to control certain aspects of steering and speed. 

ADS-equipped vehicles, which are able to perform the complete driving task in limited circumstances, are not currently sold to consumers but are in limited use on public roads around the country for testing, ride-sharing, and goods delivery.

Arizona accident

In 2018, a self-driving Uberstruck and killed a pedestrian in Arizona. A subsequent investigation determined the vehicle’s sensors saw the pedestrian but did not take action to avoid the collision.

By collecting data on all serious accidents involving cars equipped with driver-assist technology, NHTSA said it will help it identify potential safety issues and impacts resulting from the operation of advanced technologies on public roads and increase transparency. 

The agency also said access to ADS data may show whether there are common patterns in driverless vehicle crashes or systematic problems in operation as these vehicles come into wider use.

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