Regulators, Mount Up: NTSB Presses NHTSA for Better Self-driving Safety

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
regulators mount up ntsb presses nhtsa for better self driving safety

While the National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) job isn’t to establish new regulations, it is obligated to enforce the country’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards while conducting crash investigations and making recommendations to other agencies on ways to improve vehicular safety.

Lately, that job involves telling the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), an agency that does write those rules, to step up its game on autonomous vehicles.

Last week, the NTSB held a board meeting in Washington D.C. to determine the probable cause of a fatal collision between a self-driving Uber prototype and a pedestrian in March of 2018. While Uber took plenty of heat, the NHTSA also came under fire for prioritizing the advancement of advanced driving technologies over public safety.

The NTSB had been pretty hard on Uber already, so the only surprise was how much blame the group also placed upon the NHTSA. Initially, that stemmed from the ride-hailing giant’s reporting process. The Department of Transportation only requires companies that publicly test autonomous systems to submit voluntary reports — which is like to allowing children to grade their own homework.

The National Transportation Safety Board suggested that the NHTSA stop allowing business to self-assess their own safety, calling the practice “inadequate,” and implement a new reporting system that could more effectively help regulatory agencies assess how well AVs are actually doing. A recent report from Automotive News has additional context and direct quotes from NTSB staff. But the song remains the same; manufacturers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration both need to do a better job.

From Automotive News:

Through three iterations of its federal automated-vehicle policy, crafted across Democratic and Republican administrations over four years, NHTSA has issued voluntary guidance, not regulations.

It has suggested to manufacturers that they submit voluntary safety self-assessments, but as NHTSA has emphasized, automakers are under no obligation to do so. So far, 16 manufacturers have provided self-assessments. The quality and depth has varied.

“Some have a good amount of detail while others, frankly, read like marketing brochures,” said Ensar Becic, an NTSB human performance investigator.

We held similar opinions and fears when the DOT/NHTSA issued its “Vision 2.0” guidance proclamation, but it was NTSB board member Jennifer Homendy that echoed our concerns best.

put technology advancement here before saving lives,” she said. “It’s called ‘Automated Driving Systems: A Vision For Safety.’ They should rename it ‘A Vision For Lax Safety.’ This is actually laughable.”

The theory was that, by not hamstringing manufacturers with unnecessary regulation of a technology most lawmakers don’t understand, startups and automakers could accelerate its development. Yet autonomous driving doesn’t appear to be progressing as quickly as anticipated. Meanwhile, broadly reported crashes are making the public lose faith in the technology. Ditto for other safety agencies.

“The federal government is actively encouraging a corporate laboratory experience where real people are unknowingly being used as crash-test dummies,” said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety. “ has done nothing to provide AV safety oversight in the 18 months since Elaine Herzberg’s death … If not now, when?”

The NTSB isn’t even patting itself on the back for pointing these things out, claiming they should be obvious to all regulators.

“We feel like they’re the low-hanging fruit,” Kris Poland, deputy director of the NTSB Office of Highway Safety, said last week. The group intends to keep pushing for firmer guidelines regarding autonomous testing and reporting procedures. The NHTSA claims it welcomes any reports the NTSB puts together and will carefully review the accompanying recommendations.

[Image: Ford Motor Company]

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  • Bobbysirhan I'd like to look at all of the numbers. The eager sheep don't seem too upset about the $1,800 delta over home charging, suggesting that the total cost is truly obscene. Even spending Biden bucks, I don't need $1,800 of them to buy enough gasoline to cover 15,000 miles a year. Aren't expensive EVs supposed to make up for their initial expense, planet raping resource requirements, and the child slaves in the cobalt mines by saving money on energy? Stupid is as stupid does.
  • Slavuta Civic EX - very competent car. I hate the fact of CVT and small turbo+DI. But it is a good car. Good rear seat. Fix the steering and keep goingBut WRX is just a different planet.
  • SPPPP This rings oh so very hollow. To me, it sounds like the powers that be at Ford don't know which end is up, and therefore had to invent a new corporate position to serve as "bad guy" for layoffs and eventual scapegoat if (when) the quality problems continue.
  • Art Vandelay Tasos eats $#!t and puffs peters
  • Kwik_Shift Imagine having trying to prove that the temporary loss of steering contributed to your plunging off a cliff or careening through a schoolyard?