The United States’ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has ordered automakers to report vehicle accidents that involve advanced driver assist software like Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving software. The order comes in the wake of a series of crashes in which the use of Tesla’s Autopilot was suspected to have been a factor.
Tesla already maintains logs of the use of its driver assist programs. In some cases, such as a fatal wreck in Texas, the Autopilot was initially suspected to have been active at the time of the crash. However, analysis of the data transmitted subsequently revealed that the Autopilot was not in use at the time.
According to a report published by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, driver error is a factor in 94% of automobile wrecks. This does not necessarily mean that a driver is at fault if he or she only had a split second to react to an unexpected condition while driving. It may simply mean that the driver overcompensated or otherwise misjudged the situation. One of the selling points of driver assist programs is that they can cut down on the risk of driver error with features like lane-keeping assistance, recognition of road signs and stop lights that the driver may not always notice in poor visibility conditions, and alerts of a potentially hazardous condition like another driver drifting into the lane.
At the current level of driver assistance programs like Tesla’s Autopilot, the primary hazard involves Tesla owners relying too much on them. There have been cases of Tesla owners pulling dangerous stunts like riding in the back seat of a driverless vehicle. Tesla employees have quietly admitted to the California DMV that the company and CEO Elon Musk overstate the capabilities of its Full Self-Driving software. In response to the recent safety issues, Tesla has turned on a camera mounted to the rear-view mirror on its vehicles with Autopilot or Full Self-Driving activated to track driver alertness.
Then why does the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration want automakers to report accidents, especially when they might not always be aware that there was a wreck involving one of their vehicles? According to the regulatory agency, it’s purely a matter of data collection.
“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. Gathering data will help instill public confidence that the federal government is closely overseeing the safety of automated vehicles,” says NHTSA acting administrator Steven Cliff.
According to the NHTSA’s new mandate, automakers will be required to report accidents involving their driver assist programs within 10 days of becoming aware of them and submit a report on all crashes involving their software every month. Tesla may find it a simple matter of collating the data that was transmitted from Tesla vehicles to its supercomputers, including its newest one, which is officially the fifth most powerful supercomputer in the world.