June 29, 2023

NHTSA rejects call to make AV test reporting mandatory


WASHINGTON — A federal regulator has declined a request to require automated vehicle (AV) developers and government agencies to submit test and safety data into an AV testing database, asserting that such a change to the current voluntary system would go beyond the program’s scope.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association sought the change through comments filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. OOIDA stated that while it supported NHTSA’s Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing (AV TEST) Initiative, the voluntary structure of the program prevents it from providing the public “direct and easy access” to information on AV testing, development and safety.

“The reliance on voluntary safety reporting from AV manufacturers will not effectively build public trust, acceptance, and confidence in the testing and deployment of these vehicles and will make it difficult for the agency to properly modify safety regulations,” OOIDA President and CEO Todd Spencer told the agency.

In a notice scheduled to publish on Friday, NHTSA responded that the objective of the AV TEST Initiative is to provide the public with “a centralized database of high-level information about ADS testing activities and state and local laws, recommendations, and initiatives.

“It is, therefore, outside of the scope of the project to make any reporting mandatory or to expand the collection to include safety information or information that NHTSA would use to evaluate the safety of ADS [automated driving systems] operations.”

NHTSA’s response, however, “is a bit confusing,” said an OOIDA spokesman when asked to comment, pointing out that it is within the agency’s purview to require safety data from AV developers and manufacturers.

He cited NHTSA’s 2021 amended Standing General Order on ADS — requiring manufacturers and operators of ADS vehicles to report crashes to the agency — in which the agency stated that, “Given the rapid evolution of these technologies and testing of new technologies and features on publicly accessible roads, it is critical for NHTSA to exercise its robust oversight over potential safety defects in vehicles operating with ADS and Level 2 ADAS.”

NHTSA’s contention that including safety information is outside the scope of the AV TEST Initiative is also somewhat contrary to how the company described the program when the agency rolled it out in June 2020.

The initiative “will provide an online, public-facing platform for sharing automated driving systems testing activities and other safety-related information with the public,” NHTSA stated in its initial press release.

The agency noted at the time that nine companies and eight states had signed on to participate. That has since grown to 19 states and 38 nonstate participants. NHTSA informed the Office of Management and Budget in the notice scheduled for Friday that it anticipates expanding to include up to 35 state or local government participants and 40 ADS developer, vehicle manufacturer or operator participants per year.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation, whose members include AV manufacturers and suppliers for the auto industry, pushed NHTSA to make better use of the data it collects from those respondents.

“If leveraged appropriately, the information collected as part of the AV TEST Initiative can play a key role in informing policy decisions to help advance the safe deployment of AVs,” the group stated in recent comments.

Click for more FreightWaves articles by John Gallagher.


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