US road safety authorities have issued an order requiring car makers to report all crashes involving autonomous vehicles being tested on public roads.
To date, 30 of the 50 US states permit real-world testing of the future hands-free vehicle technology, which goes beyond what is available for the public to buy today.
The next-generation technology – known as Level Five autonomy – relies more heavily on cameras, radar, and other sensors to read the road and traffic, with minimal input from the driver.
However, amid growing concerns about the potential for over-reliance on the technology – even in prototype form – the National Highway Transport Safety Authority (NHTSA)has introduced a compulsory reporting system for technology companies working with autonomous cars that are involved in a crash.
Companies responsible for testing autonomous cars on public roads will need to notify NHTSA within one day of a crash that involves a “hospital-treated injury, fatality, vehicle tow-away, airbag deployment or a vulnerable road user such as a pedestrian or bicyclist”.
A detailed report will need to be filed within 10 days of a crash, NHTSA said.
Technology companies and automakers who don’t comply with the order could face “serious enforcement consequences” as well as “substantial civil penalties,” reported Automotive News USA.
Ann Carlson, NHTSA’s chief counsel, told Automotive News USA the order does not apply to consumers or other companies such as car dealerships, but does apply to prototype vehicles and systems.
“If a company has no reportable crashes, it will still be required to file a monthly report stating so,” Carlson was quoted by Automotive News USA as saying.
In a media statement, NHTSA administrator Steven Cliff said: “By mandating crash reporting, (NHTSA) will have access to critical data that will help quickly identify safety issues that could emerge in these automated systems.”
“NHTSA's core mission is safety,” Cliff said, adding that the compulsory reporting measures “will help instill public confidence that the federal government is closely overseeing the safety of automated vehicles.”
The extra scrutiny comes as NHTSA has opened “at least 30 investigations into Tesla crashes since 2016,” Automotive News USA reported.
Electric-car specialist Tesla has pushed the limits of autonomous cars, with a number of drivers crashing – sometimes with fatal consequences – after placing too much faith in today's technology.
Last month a driver in California (pictured below) was busted by police after being spotted by other motorists while driving from the back seat.
The month prior two people died in a Tesla in Texas after it was alleged they were using the car in autopilot – even though the car was not equipped with that feature. Texas police said the occupants were found in the back seat of the car.
A media statement issued by the Alliance for Automotive Innovation – a group of car companies and technology providers working on autonomous vehicles, but which does not include Tesla as a member – said it is “critical that consumers know and understand the benefits – and limitations – of these features to build and improve confidence in proven vehicle safety technologies.”
“Misuse and abuse of (existing driver assistance systems) is extremely dangerous and threatens consumer acceptance and confidence in vehicles equipped with potentially life-saving … technologies,” said John Bozzella, CEO of the alliance, in a media statement.
MORE: Tesla boss Elon Musk admits autonomous tech is harder than he thought
MORE: All our Tesla coverage in one click
MORE: Texas Tesla crash leaves two dead
MORE: Elon Musk responds to deadly Tesla crash
MORE: Tesla driver busted twice in one week for back-seat driving
MORE: Consumer Reports shows how Tesla autonomous system can be tricked