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NHTSA Releasing Automated Vehicle Safety Data This Month

Last week, a report at the Wall Street Journal said that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA, or “Nitz Uh”) is going to release safety data on automated driving systems this month. Specifically, it’s going to be data they started collecting last year.

NHTSA Data Collection

Under last year’s “standing general order” (no, not the “prime directive” from Star Trek), the government agency told companies offering advanced driver assist systems (ADAS), including Level 2 systems, that they must regularly report data on all crashes.

“NHTSA’s core mission is safety. By mandating crash reporting, the agency will have access to critical data that will help quickly identify safety issues that could emerge in these automated systems,” said Dr. Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s Acting Administrator, in a press release at the time of the order. “In fact, gathering data will help instill public confidence that the federal government is closely overseeing the safety of automated vehicles.”

Specifically, the order required this information from automakers:

  • Within one day of learning of a crash, companies must report crashes involving a Level 2 ADAS or Levels 3-5 ADS-equipped vehicle that also involve a hospital-treated injury, a fatality, a vehicle tow-away, an air bag deployment, or a vulnerable road user such as a pedestrian or bicyclist. An updated report is due 10 days after learning of the crash.
  • Every month, companies must report all other crashes involving an ADS-equipped vehicle that involve an injury or property damage.
  • Reports must be updated monthly with new or additional information.
  • Reports must be submitted for any reportable crash, about which a company receives notice, beginning 10 days after the company is served with the order.
  • Reports must be submitted to NHTSA electronically using a form that requires important information regarding the crash. NHTSA will use this information to identify crashes for follow-up.

The agency said they needed this data to be able to do their job as regulators, but there’s a little more to the story than that. Many safety advocates have been expressing concern for years about how companies offering ADAS either don’t provide any safety data to the public, or how information is presented out of context. Tesla’s quarterly safety reports, in particular, were the subject of much of this criticism, some even from the government.

By requiring automakers to disclose this data, with the same rules across the board for all automakers, NHTSA addresses the concern of lack of data, or data put in bad context. Every company has to report accidents, deaths, and injuries, so NHTSA won’t have to rely on the company’s marketing department to figure out what’s going on with these systems. In other words, they’re seeking out actionable intelligence.

This Won’t Stop All Liars From Figuring

To be fair, we also need to be sure to keep an eye out for people who will mislead others when this data does get released. Not all companies are selling the same systems in the same numbers. By raw numbers, one could say that Tesla has more crashes than other automakers, but that’s obviously going to be true because Tesla sells more ADAS-equipped vehicles than many (if not all) other manufacturers.

To get to the truth, look for in-context statistics, like accidents per vehicle-miles driven, or accidents per number of vehicles on the road.

Featured image by Tesla.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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