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With the September 2016 issuance of the first guidelines on self-driving cars, the US Department of Transportation is embracing automated driving. The Federal Autonomous Vehicle Policy uses a 15-point Safety Assessment to set expectations for manufacturers developing and deploying automated vehicle technology. In an effort to build a consistent national framework of laws to govern self-driving vehicles, the DOT called for states to come up with uniform policies applying to driverless vehicles. The policy also outlines options for the further use of current federal authorities to expedite the safe introduction of highly automated vehicles in the marketplace and discusses new tools and authorities the federal government may need as the technology evolves.
My recent blog on self-driving cars discussed a May 2016 fatal crash of a Florida driver, Joshua Brown, in a Tesla self-driving vehicle with an Autopilot feature. Tesla learned about the crash weeks after it happened but did not publically disclose it until late June, when the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced it was investigating the collision. There has also been a report of an automated vehicle crash in Beijing that may have occurred while the automated driver-assist system was operating. On January 20, 2016, a driver was killed when the Tesla Model S he was driving slammed into a road sweeper on a highway. An in-car video looking through the windshield recorded the car traveling in the left lane at highway speed before smashing into a parked or slow-moving truck. Apparently there is no indication that the driver or the car hit the brakes prior to the crash. The news of the Chinese crash raises questions about when Tesla should disclose information about accidents in cars with the Autopilot feature and exactly what information should be shared. Shortly before the China crash, Tesla announced changes planned for the Autopilot feature that the company said would have prevented Mr. Brown’s accident and would make the Model S one of the safest cars on the road.
The Federal Autonomous Vehicle Policy states that “vehicles should record, at a minimum, all information relevant to the [crash] and the performance of the system, so the circumstances of the event can be reconstructed”. It still remains unclear exactly how this data will be shared.
Tesla claims that Autopilot is not meant to take over completely for a human driver. With the Autopilot feature turned on, the driver is given audio and text warnings to remain engaged and alert while using the system. The challenge will be to avoid the driver being lulled into a sense of complacency, with too little time to react and regain control of the vehicle.
By Beth Cole