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The NHTSA to Require Crash Reports From Manufacturers of Vehicles Equipped with Level-2 & Higher Automated Driving Features

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【Summary】The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will now require automakers selling vehicle equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) or SAE Levels 3-5 automated driving systems to report any crashes involving their vehicles, the agency announced on Tuesday.

FutureCar Staff    Jun 29, 2021 3:30 PM PT
The NHTSA to Require Crash Reports From Manufacturers of Vehicles Equipped with Level-2 & Higher Automated Driving Features

After at least 11 deaths since 2015 involving Tesla vehicle with the automated driving feature Autopilot engaged, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will now require automakers selling vehicle equipped with advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) or SAE Levels 3-5 automated driving systems to report any crashes involving their vehicles, the agency announced on Tuesday.

The order requires vehicle manufacturers to report crashes where Level 2 ADAS or Level 3-5 autonomous driving systems were engaged during or immediately before the crash. 

These systems include Tesla's Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD) feature, as well as the Super Cruise automated highway driving feature offered by General Motors, Ford's BlueCruise, Nissan's ProPilot and others.

The NHTSA said this action will allow it to collect information necessary for the agency to play its role in keeping roads safe in the U.S. after a series of high-profile crashes involving Tesla vehicles while the driver had Autopilot activated.

"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." 

NHTSA's order more specifically requires that automakers report any crashes related to level 2 to 5 autonomous driving systems leading to a hospital-treated injury, fatality, a vehicle tow-away, airbag deployment, or any incidents that involve a vulnerable road user, such as a pedestrian or bicyclist, within one day. 

An updated report is due from the vehicle manufacturer ten days after learning of a crash. 

In addition, each month, companies must report all other crashes that involve human supervised advanced driver assist systems (ADAS) that involve an injury or property damage within one day of learning about them. The Reports must be updated monthly with new or additional information.

Reports must also be submitted for any reportable crash that a company receives notice about ten days after the company is served with the order.

Reports must be submitted to NHTSA electronically using a form that requires important information regarding the crash. NHTSA will use this information to identify any crashes for follow-up.

The data collected will help the agency identify potential safety issues and impacts resulting from the operation of advanced technologies on public roads and increase transparency, the NHTSA said.

Access to data from autonomous driving systems may show whether there are common patterns in driverless vehicle crashes or systematic problems in operation, according to the NHTSA.

NHTSA's review and analysis will also include all information and incidents relevant to any potential safety defects. 

Level 2 ADAS are being offered on many new vehicle models today. These systems include Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB), Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and Lane Keep Assist (LKA) in which the vehicle can control steering or braking without a driver intervening.

Although drivers are instructed to remain engaged and alert at all times when using these systems today, some drivers do not comply. Drivers of Tesla vehicles for example, have shared videos on social media of the car operating with no one in the driver seat or apparently with a driver sleeping behind the wheel.

NHTSA's oversight is not limited to the specified crashes discussed in the order or the information submitted under its reporting obligations. 

The NHTSA may also take further actions on any individual crash, including sending a crash investigations team to investigate and requiring that the vehicle manufacturer provide any additional information requested in order to complete the investigation.

For some its might appear that the NHTSA is overstepping its authority in regulating autonomous driving systems. But its the lack of a regulatory framework surrounding self-driving vehicles is hindering their wide-scale deployment on public roads in the  U.S. This additional oversight may be the first step in creating a regulatory framework around their deployment.

In April, Massachusetts Sen. Ed Markey and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut sent a letter to the NHTSA asking the government agency to develop recommendations to improve modern driver assist systems after another fatal crash in Texas involving a Tesla Model S. Both occupants were killed in the crash. 

Although the investigation is ongoing, Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said that Autopilot could not be activated on the stretch of road that the accident occured on.

Despite the new oversight of autonomous vehicles by the NHTSA of automated vehicles involved in accidents, developers of the technology believe its has the potential to save lives by outperforming human drivers at driving tasks.

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