US Regulators Begin Consultation On Self-Driving Car Safety

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Authorities begin public consultation on ways to improve self-driving car safety, ahead of new safety standards for autonomous vehicles

American car safety regulators have begun a public consultation on ways to improve the safety of self-driving cars.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced it was opening a formal regulatory notice of proposed rulemaking, in order to get public input on how to ensure the safety of future self-driving vehicles, Reuters reported.

It comes after a number of incidents of regarding these vehicles over the years, including multiple accidents and indeed fatalities.

Safety consultation

The last such widely reported incident happened in Canada in September, where a man was charged after police saw he sleeping whilst his Tesla car drove at 90mph.

The Canadian man and his passenger were according to the police in Alberta, both sleeping in fully reclined seats as the Tesla drove along a highway in autonomous mode at speeds of more than 140kph (86mph).

The driver reported bypassed the car’s inbuilt safety system that requires the driver to toggle the steering wheel or make other adjustments every 20 seconds, by attaching a weight to the steering wheel to trick the car’s systems.

Into this comes the news that the NHTSA has begun formal proceedings before it sets rules and guidelines for autonomous vehicles.

Are we ready for ready for driverless transport?

“This rulemaking will help address legitimate public concerns about safety, security and privacy without hampering innovation in the development of automated driving systems,” US Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao was quoted as saying by Reuters.

NHTSA reportedly said the proceeding could result in the agency issuing new guidance documents addressing best industry practices, providing information to consumers or formal regulations including rules requiring reporting and disclosures to new legally binding safety standards on automated driving systems.

But any final rules are still likely years away.

No rules

The agency is reportedly focused on key primary functions for self-driving systems, including how use sensors; detect other road users; plans routes; makes decisions on how to respond appropriately to road users and execute driving functions.

NHTSA seeks input to develop “a framework that meets the need for motor vehicle safety and assesses the degree of success in manufacturers’ efforts to ensure safety,” it said.

It comes after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) according to Reuters, faulted NHTSA for adopting what it called “a non-regulatory approach to automated vehicle safety”, and the agency has failed to develop a method for verifying manufacturers of “partial automation systems are incorporating system safeguards.”

On Thursday, NHTSA said it “has no desire to issue regulations that would needlessly prevent the deployment of any (automated-driving system)-equipped vehicle” adding “an ill-conceived standard may fail to meet the need for motor vehicle safety and needlessly stifle innovation.”

Unbelievably it seems, at the moment in the United States there are no regulations governing the performance Autopilot systems, but NHTSA can demand a recall if believes any vehicle poses an unreasonable risk to safety.

Full autonomous driving

In July this year, Elon Musk said that Tesla is “very close” to achieving level 5 autonomous driving technology.

For those that don’t know, level 5 is the holy grail of autonomous driving technology, as level 5 vehicles will not require human intervention, and need for a human drivers is eliminated.

Indeed, it is said that level 5 cars won’t even have steering wheels or acceleration/braking pedals.

These cars will be free from geofencing, and will be able to drive anywhere, and do anything that normal car with a human driver can do.

Tesla cars currently operate at a level-two Autopilot, which requires the driver to remain alert and ready to act, with hands on the wheel.

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Author: Tom Jowitt
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