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The Federal Government's Updated Self-Driving Vehicle Policy Removes Key Safety Oversight

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recently updated its guidance regarding self-driving vehicles. The agency remains committed to supporting the development of autonomous vehicle technology. Unfortunately, from a safety standpoint, it has elected to take a more “hands-off” approach.

Under the policy adopted under the Obama Administration, NHTSA was authorized to approve or reject a self-driving vehicle system before it could be sold to consumers. The NHTSA’s new guidance provides that entities do not need to wait to test or deploy their automated driving systems. It also makes the self-assessment process for companies and organizations less rigorous.

Safety Concerns Regarding Autonomous Vehicle Technology

There are 5.5 million traffic collisions in the United States every year, of which 81% are attributable to human error. With drivers out of the picture, autonomous vehicles have the potential to save lives. In fact, experts predict that crashes could decrease by as much as 9%. However, as we all know, technology is not infallible.

In its latest report, Google reported that it experienced 341 significant disengagement events over 424,000 miles of driving on California roadways. In 69 of the incidents, the driver was forced to take control of the car to avoid colliding with another vehicle or other object. Notably, the autonomous cars had difficulty detecting pedestrians, traffic lights, bicyclists, low-hanging branches, and the proximity of parked vehicles. The report confirms that many safety risks still exist for self-driving vehicles.

Tesla’s Autopilot technology, which is capable of autonomously steering and controlling the vehicle, has been involved in several crashes. In its investigation into a fatal Florida accident, the National Transportation Safety Board concluded that Tesla’s Autopilot system is flawed because it gives “far too much leeway to the driver to divert his attention to something other than driving.”

The serious car accidents involving autonomous vehicle technology suggest that automakers may not be capable of policing themselves when it comes to safety. So, while the auto industry applauded NHTSA’s new policy, consumer safety groups expressed concern.

“The voluntary policy announced today is a retreat from the already flawed guidance provided in 2016,” said Jason K. Levine, the executive director of the Center for Auto Safety in Washington. According to Levine, omitting required safety assessments gives too much power to automakers “who have frequently proven they cannot be trusted to protect the public interest in their race for profits.”

If you or someone you know was seriously injured in a car accident involving a self-driving vehicle do not hesitate to contact a San Diego car accident attorney at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage. Consultations are free until your case is won.