The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said Tuesday that automakers will be required to report crashes involving driver-assist systems, as well as crashes of fully autonomous vehicles, which are less common on roads.
Driver-assist systems, such as Tesla’s Autopilot, GM’s SuperCruise and Ford’s upcoming BlueCruise, handle some steering, braking and acceleration, and can generally keep a car within a lane on a highway, but require an attentive human behind the wheel for safety’s sake.
NHTSA said the crash data will help it quickly identify safety issues, and intervene as necessary. The move was cheered by auto safety and autonomous driving experts.
“This is a major step forward for safety,” Bryan Reimer, associate director of the New England University Transportation Center at MIT, told CNN Business. “Reporting will increase transparency around the benefits and risks of assisted and automated driving.”
Today there aren’t specific regulations for driver-assist systems, leaving automakers to market and describe the systems as they so choose. But NHTSA is investigating 36 driver-assist crashes, with 30 of those involving Teslas, according to the agency.
There have been at least nine US deaths tied to Tesla’s Autopilot, according to NHTSA. The company maintains that drivers are still ultimately responsible for the operation of their vehicle.
“That’s frightening. The cars most definitely do not drive themselves. There’s no doubt there’s consumer misconceptions,” Brannon said.
“Misuse and abuse of [driver-assist] systems is extremely dangerous and threatens consumer acceptance and confidence in vehicles equipped with potentially life-saving [driver-assist] technologies,” CEO John Bozzella said. “Likewise, expanded customer acceptance and adoption of higher levels of automation can help to reduce the 94% of motor vehicle crashes that are attributed to human error.”
A spokesperson for the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which represents the automotive insurance industry and advocates for safety improvements, told CNN Business that it supported NHTSA’s move, and it has frequently petitioned NHTSA to make guidelines around driver-assist systems.
Tesla and Ford did not immediately respond to a request for comment. GM said it was reviewing the NHTSA announcement.