By on May 11, 2018

You might want to sit down for this one. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released a study this week showing older cars without modern day safety hardware are — and I’m sorry to say this — far more dangerous than newer vehicles. Unbelievable, right?

Of course not. As tacked on and obnoxious as a lot of safety regulations often seem, they are delivering onto us safer automobiles. The old maxim of “they don’t build cars like they used to” is absolutely true, but not in the way your grandfather meant it. According to data compiled from the U.S. government’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) between 2012 and 2016, fatal incidents occurred in older model-year vehicles at a much higher rate than their newer counterparts. Not surprisingly, the NHSTA also suggested the severity of an occupant’s injuries increase the older a vehicle gets.

Still, the disparity between the vehicle age groups is surprisingly vast. (Read More…)

By on April 22, 2018

autonomous hardware

Thanks to the incredibly lax and voluntary guidelines outlined by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, automakers have had free rein to develop and test autonomous technology as they see fit. Meanwhile, the majority of states have seemed eager to welcome companies to their neck of the woods with a minimum of hassle. But things are beginning to change after a handful of high-profile accidents are forcing public officials to question whether the current approach to self-driving cars is the correct one.

The House of Representatives has already passed the SELF DRIVE Act. But it’s bipartisan companion piece, the AV START Act, has been hung up in the Senate for months now. The intent of the legislation is to remove potential barriers for autonomous development and fast track the implementation of self-driving technology. But a handful of legislators and consumer advocacy groups have claimed AV START doesn’t place a strong enough emphasis on safety and cyber security. Interesting, considering SELF DRIVE appeared to be less hard on manufacturers and passed with overwhelming support.

Of course, it also passed before the one-two punch of vehicular fatalities in California and Arizona from earlier this year. Now some policymakers are admitting they probably don’t understand the technology as they should and are becoming dubious that automakers can deliver on the multitude of promises being made. But the fact remains that some manner of legal framework needs to be established for autonomous vehicles, because it’s currently a bit of a confused free-for-all.  (Read More…)

By on March 27, 2018

uber volvo

Ever since last week’s  fatal accident, in which an autonomous test vehicle from Uber struck a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, it seems like the whole world has united against the company. While the condemnation is not undeserved, there appears to be an emphasis on casting the blame in a singular direction to ensure nobody else gets caught up in the net of outrage. But it’s important to remember that, while Uber has routinely displayed a lack of interest in pursuing safety as a priority, all autonomous tech firms are being held to the same low standards imposed by both local and federal governments.

Last week, lidar supplier Velodyne said Uber’s failure was most likely on the software end as it defended the effectiveness of its hardware. Since then, Aptiv — the supplier for the Volvo XC90’s radar and camera — claimed Uber disabled the SUV’s standard crash avoidance systems to implement its own. This was followed up by Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issuing a suspension on all autonomous testing from Uber on Monday — one week after the incident and Uber’s self-imposed suspension.  (Read More…)

By on March 22, 2018

On Wednesday evening, the Tempe Police Department released a video documenting the final moments before an Uber-owned autonomous test vehicle fatally struck a woman earlier this week. The public response has been varied. Many people agree with Tempe Police Chief Sylvia Moir that the accident was unavoidable, while others accusing Uber of vehicular homicide. The media take has been somewhat more nuanced.

One thing is very clear, however — the average person still does not understand how this technology works in the slightest. While the darkened video (provided below) does seem to support claims that the victim appeared suddenly, other claims — that it is enough to exonerate Uber — are mistaken. The victim, Elaine Herzberg, does indeed cross directly into the path of the oncoming Volvo XC90 and is visible for a fleeting moment before the strike, but the vehicle’s lidar system should have seen her well before that. Any claims to the contrary are irresponsible.  (Read More…)

By on March 20, 2018

Uber Volvo Autonomous

Details are trickling in about the fatal incident in Tempe, Arizona, where an autonomous Uber collided with a pedestrian earlier this week. While a true assessment of the situation is ongoing, the city’s police department seems ready to absolve the company of any wrongdoing.

“The driver said it was like a flash, the person walked out in front of them,” explained Tempe police chief Sylvia Moir. “His first alert to the collision was the sound of the collision.”

This claim leaves us with more questions than answers. Research suggests autonomous driving aids lull people into complacency, dulling the senses and slowing reaction times. But most self-driving hardware, including Uber’s, uses lidar that can functionally see in pitch black conditions. Even if the driver could not see the woman crossing the street (there were streetlights), the vehicle should have picked her out clear as day. (Read More…)

By on March 19, 2018

uber volvo

In the evening hours of March 18th, a pedestrian was fatally struck by a self-driving vehicle in Tempe, Arizona. While we all knew this was an inevitability, many expected the first casualty of progress to be later in the autonomous development timeline. The vehicle in question was owned by Uber Technologies and the company has admitted it was operating autonomously at the time of the incident.

The company has since halted all testing in the Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Toronto, and greater Phoenix areas.

If you’re wondering what happened, so is Uber. The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has opened an investigation into the accident and is sending a team to Tempe. Uber says it is cooperating with authorities. (Read More…)

By on September 14, 2017

FCA Windsor minivan assembly Dodge Grand Caravan 2011 - Image: FCA

Fiat Chrysler will idle production of both the Chrysler Pacifica and Dodge Grand Caravan for over a month in autumn. But with the latter model seeing impressive sales in the United States last month, can FCA afford to hit “pause” on assembly?

Not really, but that doesn’t matter — the Grand Caravan has to meet updated U.S. safety standards if Dodge wants to keep selling them. Unfortunately, FCA only has a 19-day supply of the minivan in reserve after an exceptional August depleted inventories. On the flip side, Chrysler’s objectively good but slower-selling Pacifica has a 108-day vehicle surplus. Wait, that’s also bad news.

At least the line workers at FCA’s Windsor Assembly Plant have have some time off to look forward to.  (Read More…)

By on June 27, 2017

crash test dummies
We knew the Trump administration wanted to deregulate the automotive industry in order to free it from any production hangups, be it imagined or genuine. However, some of the items under consideration for potential elimination are safety features that seem silly to go without. At the top of that list is the requirement that all electrically driven vehicles must emit noise to alert pedestrians to their presence.

However, this isn’t the only safety feature at risk of becoming an optional extra. In budget documents provided to Congress, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration specified it is considering six separate areas for deregulation. Those include the modern standard for rear-view mirrors and backup cameras in passenger cars, mandatory electronic stability-control units for heavy trucks, and a rule allowing car dealers to install switches to deactivate airbags in customer vehicles.

While some of the rules could be abolished entirely, others are more likely to undergo some gentle retooling to provide automakers greater flexibility. Automakers have long pressed for the revamp of some antiquated, NHTSA-administered safety standards in order to permit the introduction of newer technologies. Still, eliminating any safety mandate is likely to raise the ire of consumer safety advocates, whether the end goal is well-intentioned or not.  (Read More…)

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