Tesla and Other Automakers Could Be Subjected to New Autopilot Safety Regulations
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Tesla and other car companies adding autonomous driving capabilities to their models will have to report any damage-causing accidents that happen while the new technology is in use.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced the new rule at the end of June. It applies to all partially automated functions, like steering, acceleration, and braking, and will include full automation once the technology is available.
The rule comes after a number of "self-driving" vehicles were involved in fatal car accidents in the last few years. Auto-safety experts hope the data collected by the NHTSA will help them determine just how safe these autonomous features really are.
Car crashes involving Tesla’s AutoPilot and other "driverless" vehicles
Despite the industry’s attempts to bill autonomous driving tech as safety features, there have been a number of fatal accidents in which self-driving modes were implicated as at least partially responsible.
In the last five years, the New York Times reported three deadly crashes that were thought to have been at least partially caused by Tesla’s AutoPilot system.
In the first one, in 2016, the driver of the Tesla died when a tractor-trailer turned left in front of the car on a street in northern Florida and the AutoPilot system failed to apply the brakes.
In 2018, a Tesla in self-driving mode crashed into a highway barrier in California, killing the man in the driver’s seat. A third crash killed two men in Houston this past April, but the automated driving system was exonerated when investigators concluded that it was not fully engaged at the time of the accident.
Another deadly crash in 2018 involved a self-driving Uber, although the Verge says this accident was also determined to be the fault of the driver.
The details on the NHTSA’s new regulation
According to Consumer Reports, the NHTSA order requires automakers and software suppliers to report any crashes involving an automated driving system that results in "hospital-treated injury, a fatality, a vehicle tow-away, an airbag deployment, or a vulnerable road user, such as a pedestrian or bicyclist" within 24 hours of learning about the accident.
Automakers and equipment suppliers (including software suppliers) who fail to comply with the order could face fines and other civil action.
Why safety experts say we need the NHTSA’s intervention
NHTSA’s new rule is long overdue. According to AAA, about 96% of 2020’s new vehicles already came with at least one automated or "driver assistance" feature. But little data is available to show just how these features affect road safety.
Kelly Funkhouser, the organization’s head of Consumer Reports’ advanced vehicle technology testing, said some independent research shows that systems like automatic emergency braking and blind-spot warning can reduce crashes.
But she said there isn’t enough data for other features, such as adaptive cruise control or lane-keeping assistance. She believes the new regulation from the NHTSA will offer "some insight into the efficacy of these systems in the real world."
The impact of advanced driver assistance systems on your car insurance
It’s difficult to calculate how driver assistance and other self-driving systems affect car insurance rates. While many of them are touted as safety features that could lower your premiums, they also consist of parts that are expensive to replace.
Chances are that the type of car you drive, your driving record, and where you live determines the cost of your coverage a lot more than any of this new technology. But no matter what factors control your rate, Jerry can help you find the best price.