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Regulatory vs independent: safety tensions only ‘natural’

NHTSA and the NTSB may lack a unified voice when it comes to safety specifics but they are working to different constraints, writes Megan Lampinen

Autonomous vehicle developments are advancing quickly, but at the moment without any firm regulatory standards. “There are three major components of making self-driving cars a reality: technology, hardware and regulations. The technology and hardware are rapidly evolving at various companies, but neither will matter if the regulatory element takes forever to get resolved,” commented Karl Brauer, Executive publisher for Autotrader & Kelley Blue Book.

At the moment, advice and recommendations are emerging from various camps, reflecting various views on priorities and best practice. In the US, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is responsible for regulating all motor vehicles on US roadways, working toward a goal of reducing fatalities and injuries from crashes. Part of the Department of Transportation (DoT), its role is decidedly regulatory. At the same time, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) investigates high profile crashes and makes recommendations. It is an independent agency chartered by Congress, and as such makes recommendations to NHTSA.

These two different entitles have been following autonomous drive and highly automated technology closely. Both launched their own investigation into the fatal crash of a Tesla Model S driver in Florida last year. The collision occurred when the vehicle ran into a semi-tractor trailer that failed to yield when crossing a divided highway. Both were keen to ascertain the role that Autopilot played in the crash, and both came to different conclusions….

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