The National Transportation Safety Board wants to see minimum standards imposed on automated driving systems, and its naming one automaker in particular for having lax standards of safety that have contributed to multiple fatality crashes.
In a letter sent to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration last month, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt says the federal government needs to focus on creating performance standards for collision avoidance systems, whether the vehicle is driven by a human or an automated driving system.
“As NHTSA moves toward an ADS safety framework, it is important that the agency prioritize the development of minimum performance standards for collision avoidance technologies and require the systems as standard equipment on all new vehicles,” Sumwalt’s letter states.
The letter was filed as part of an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking put forward by NHTSA to establish a framework for automated driving system safety. The comment period ended Feb. 1.
The letter notes that from May 2016 to March 2019, NTSB has investigated four crashes – including three fatalities – that involved vehicles operating in partial automation mode. A fourth fatality crash, occurring in November 2019, involved a vehicle operated by a developmental automated driving system.
In the section about testing autonomous vehicles on public roads, NTSB refers to NHTSA’s perception of the safety of testing autonomous vehicles on public roads as “probably unrealistic.”
The letter repeatedly calls out automaker Tesla for a lack of appropriate safeguards, which contributed to the deaths of at least three Tesla owners who were killed in crashes when their vehicles’ Autopilot system was engaged.
Sumwalt’s letter also criticized Tesla for recently releasing a beta version of its Level 2 Autopilot system, described by the company as having full self-driving capability.
“By releasing the system, Tesla is testing on public roads a highly automated AV technology but with limited oversight or reporting requirements,” the letter states. “Although Tesla includes a disclaimer that ‘currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous,’ NHTSA’s hands-off approach to oversight of AV testing poses a potential risk to motorists and other road users.”