Cars and Trucks

NHTSA Tells Autonomous Tech Companies They Need to Report Crashes

  • Companies working on autonomous and driver assistance technologies did not need to report any incidents to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) about times when their vehicles did not work as advertised. Now they do.
  • For at least the next three years, any of the more than 100 companies working on autonomous (AV) and driver assist (ADAS) technologies will need to file reports about any crash that resulted in more than a minor scrape, as well as monthly reports if they have zero crashes.
  • NHTSA will collect this information and release it to the public, but there are carveouts for legitimate confidential information.

    There are more than 100 companies testing autonomous vehicles or autonomous driving technologies in the U.S. This little tidbit comes from a new Standing General Order issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that requires all of these companies to let the federal government know when any of their AVs are involved in a crash more serious than a fender bender. This represents a policy change from the previous presidential administration, when the Department of Transportation said it didn’t want to discourage innovation with too many regulations.

    NHTSA sent its order to 108 autonomous technology companies, ranging from Aimotive to Zoox, to let them know that they are now responsible for submitting detailed crash information when there’s been a crash and a car’s Automated Driving Systems (ADS) or Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) was engaged. Level 2 ADAS includes many common safety features on today’s vehicles, including things like lane-keeping assist and adaptive cruise control and branded collections of these technologies including Tesla’s Autopilot and GM’s Super Cruise.

    The order reads, in part: “Given the rapid evolution of these technologies and testing of new technologies and features on publicly accessible roads, it is critical for NHTSA to exercise its robust oversight over potential safety defects in vehicles operating with ADS and Level 2 ADAS.” NHTSA said it needs this information to keep roads safe for all users, which is why companies have to report incidents that involve airbags deploying, someone dying or being sent to the hospital, a vehicle that ended up being towed, or if someone outside the vehicle, like pedestrians or bicyclists, was involved.

    Safety advocates say the new requirements are overdue and will help the public understand what’s happening with all of these new driver assistance and EV technologies. Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety president Cathy Chase said in a statement that the new crash reporting requirements will help NHTSA determine just how safe, or not safe, crash avoidance and automated driving systems are, and make this information available to the public.

    “It is particularly timely for NHTSA to adopt this new reporting requirement given the paucity of data collected by the voluntary Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing (AV TEST) Initiative,” she said. “History and experience have repeatedly shown that voluntary agreements fail to yield accurate, comprehensive and reliable results.”

    Companies will not be able to hide behind claims of confidentiality to keep from reporting any incidents. NHTSA said it will recognize three categories of information that might actually be confidential: which version of a company’s technology the vehicle was using, whether or not the vehicle was within its operational design domain at the time of the incident, and some of the narrative the company is required to write down to explain what happened. So, for example, if a company’s technology wasn’t designed to work in sleet, the company still needs to report that its car crashed while it was sleeting, but the public will not necessarily learn that this tech is sleet challenged.

    NHTSA did make it clear that “Making a request for confidential treatment does not ensure that the information claimed to be confidential will be determined to be confidential.”

    NHTSA will make the crash data collected through this order, not including legitimate confidential information, publicly available over time. The companies subject to the order have one day from learning about a crash involving ADS/ADAS to file an initial report with NHTSA, and 10 days to follow up with more details. If one of the 108 companies doesn’t have any incidents, it must file a monthly report to that effect. NHTSA’s order is in effect for the next three years.

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