On Tuesday morning, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration issued a standing reporting order concerning incidents involving vehicles equipped with Automated Driving Systems (Levels 3-5 Automation) and Level 2 Advanced Driver Assistance Systems. This is the first major order to be issued by the NHTSA concerning autonomous vehicle technology. The administration says they have a duty under the Safety Act to ensure that manufacturers meet statutory obligations and “protect the public against unreasonable risk.”
The order requires that all vehicle and equipment (including software) manufacturers and operators report crashes on public US roads to the NHTSA. Suppose an incident results in a tow-away or significant injury to any individual, and ADS or ADAS were engaged at any time between 30 seconds before the crash and the duration of the incident. In that case, the company involved must submit an accident report to the NHTSA no later than one calendar day after learning of the accident. They must submit an update after ten calendar days. If these conditions are not met, but an incident involving ADS or ADAS still occurs on a public US road, the company must include it in a report on the 15th of each month. The NHTSA specified that they intend to make these reports public and provided a process by which manufacturers could apply for confidentiality about limited information.
This order comes just weeks after the Department of Transportation issued a request for comment on a framework for ADS safety. After months of infrastructure talks that did not address autonomous technology, it now appears that the Executive Branch will take a more hands-on approach to autonomous vehicles than previous administrations. Until now, the federal government had only issued voluntary guidance, and instead, the states largely governed autonomous vehicles.
In addition to marking the first action taken by the federal government to regulate autonomous vehicles, this order also serves as an example of the autonomous vehicle industry’s continued maturation. Whereas previous administrations might have felt that the AV industry was too niche to require federal intervention, it is now clear that autonomous technology is on the NHTSA’s radar. Back in April, Secretary Buttigieg remarked that his department’s focus would be on safety when it came to AVs. During an Axios event, he said that current “technologies exist to assist drivers, but in the vehicles that exist today, not to replace them.” This order is just one more indication that the autonomous vehicle industry is becoming a unique and definable space in the American Marketplace.