NHTSA releases first report on crashes involving driver-assist, automated-driving systems

WASHINGTON — For the first time, the nation’s top highway safety agency released data on crashes involving vehicles with advanced driver-assist systems or automated-driving systems activated.

NHTSA, cautioning that the data is preliminary and lacks proper context, said the vast majority of crashes of vehicles equipped with Level 2 ADAS were reported by Tesla Inc. and Honda Motor Co.

As automakers add more ADAS features to vehicles, NHTSA wants to better understand their role in crashes, whether they are caused by flaws in the technology or misuse by drivers. The report is an early step in that process.

“This is an unprecedented effort to gather nearly real-time safety data involving these advanced technologies,” Steven Cliff, NHTSA’s administrator, told reporters during a press call Tuesday. “Understanding the story that the data tell will take time, as most of NHTSA’s work does, but it’s a story we need to hear.”

The report comes after NHTSA in June 2021 issued an order requiring vehicle, equipment and software manufacturers of ADAS and fully automated vehicles to report crashes where the system was engaged at least 30 seconds before the crash.

The directive applies to vehicles equipped with Level 2 systems — those with driver-assist features such as lane-centering and adaptive cruise control — and Level 3 to Level 5 systems, which are not yet available to consumers but are being tested and deployed in a limited scale on public roads.

Information published on Wednesday covers the first set of data collected from the order, which includes reports submitted from June 2021 through May 15, the agency said. The agency also published two summary reports that separate crashes involving driver-assist systems from those involving automated-driving systems.

Cliff said NHTSA did not have access to the data before issuing the order last June.

The data collected through the order will help NHTSA to identify potential defect trends and crashes to investigate as well as provide more information on how pedestrians and other vehicles interact with the systems. The agency has not yet issued specific regulations or performance standards for such systems.

Cliff cautioned that the data are not contextualized by vehicle miles traveled or number of units in the fleet and said the number of incident reports that a company files “is by itself inadequate to draw conclusions regarding safety.”

Information on the number of vehicles a manufacturer or developer has deployed and the vehicle miles traveled is “held by manufacturers and not currently reported to NHTSA,” the agency noted.

Companies also have varying capabilities related to crash data recording and a vehicle’s ability to remotely transmit data to the manufacturer. A crash, too, may have multiple reports if the automaker and equipment supplier are both subject to NHTSA’s order.

“The data alone may raise more questions than they answer,” Cliff said. “And as we gather more data under the standing general order and integrate those data with our other data sources, we will improve our understanding of how these systems are performing in the field.”

NHTSA said it will continue to evaluate the crash reports and plans to release data updates monthly.

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