The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has released a set of unprecedented guidelines for autonomous vehicles. According to a report in The New York Times, the agency issued what was essentially a 15-point safety assessment that automakers should ensure their autonomous vehicles meet. The assessment addressed various issues from safeguarding consumer privacy and reacting to failures in autonomous technology to protecting passengers in the event of a crash.
What Do the Guidelines Say?
Here are some of the highlights of that 15-point checklist:
• Data-sharing: Autonomous cars are essentially giant computers on wheels. The information stored in these vehicles can be invaluable when it comes to accident reconstruction, but car owner privacy is also critical. Consumers should have a clear understanding of what type of data is being collected and should be able to reject any collection of personal information such as biometrics or driver behavior.
• Safety and security: The cars must be engineered to respond to software malfunctions. They should also have safeguards in place to prevent hacking attacks.
• Human-machine interface: Carmakers must show how their vehicles can safely switch between autopilot and human control. They should also find ways to communicate to pedestrians and others on the roadway as to when the car is in autopilot mode.
• Crashworthiness: Autonomous vehicles must meet federal standards for crashworthiness or prove that the vehicles are built to best protect occupants in a crash.
• Educating consumers: Automakers must train their sales reps and other staffers regarding how an autopilot works so they can then educate dealers, distributors and consumers. It is crucial that consumers understand the capabilities and limitations of autonomous vehicles and steps they can take in emergency situations.
• Post-crash scenarios: Automakers should be able to prove that their cars are safe to use again after a car accident. A car should not be able to go to driverless mode unless damaged parts or safety control systems have been repaired after a crash.
Are We Ready for Driverless Cars?
NHTSA’s guidelines are being viewed as a ringing endorsement of autonomous vehicles. This is frightening given the number of problems we are seeing on a daily basis with semi-autonomous cars. Tesla’s Autopilot feature is under scrutiny after two fatal crashes and several injury accidents. A group of Chinese hackers also recently proved that Tesla’s cyber-security system is extremely vulnerable. They could do anything from unlock cars remotely to apply the car’s brakes from 12 miles away.
What does all this mean? Maybe the future of autonomous cars is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean we allow automakers to put dangerous vehicles on our roads and use us as guinea pigs to experiment new technology. Automakers need to slow down and take this one step at a time – for once, putting people ahead of profits.