NHTSA to unveil voluntary AV testing data-sharing effort

WASHINGTON — U.S. auto safety regulators will unveil Monday a voluntary effort to collect and make available nationwide data on existing autonomous vehicle testing.

U.S. states have a variety of regulations governing self-driving testing and data disclosure and there is currently no centralized listing of all automated vehicle testing.

California, for example, requires public disclosure of all crashes involving self-driving vehicles, while other states do not.

NHTSA is unveiling the Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing, or AV TEST, Initiative, to provide “an online, public-facing platform for sharing automated driving system on-road testing activities.”

With many opinion polls showing deep skepticism among Americans about self-driving cars, the effort aims to boost public awareness. NHTSA plans “online mapping tools” that will eventually show testing locations and activity data.

Deputy NHTSA Administrator James Owens said in an interview that providing better transparency “encourages everybody to up their game to help better ensure that the testing is done in a manner fully consistent with safety.”

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Toyota Motor Corp. as well as Cruise – General Motors’ majority-owned self-driving subsidiary – Uber Technologies Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s self-driving company Waymo along with states including California, Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas are expected to take part, officials said.

NHTSA’s goal is to “pull together really critical stakeholders to deepen the lines of communication and cooperation among all of us,” Owens said, adding the effort was “an opportunity for the states to start sharing information among themselves.”

NHTSA will hold events this week to kick off the initiative, including panels featuring companies involved in autonomous vehicle testing such as Nuro, Beep, Waymo, Uber and Toyota.

Critics say NHTSA should mandate federal safety standards for automated driving systems.

The National Transportation Safety Board in its investigation of the March 2018 death of a pedestrian in a crash with an Uber test vehicle, the first attributed to a self-driving car, said in November that NHTSA should make self-driving vehicle safety assessments mandatory and ensure automated vehicles have appropriate safeguards.

Owens said NHTSA “will not hesitate” to take action if it believes unsafe vehicles are being tested on U.S. roads, but it has not adopted NTSB’s recommendations. 

NHTSA is also preparing to release later this year a preliminary outline of possible regulations that would set safety principles for autonomous vehicles, Owens said in the interview.

“We definitely want to make sure, first and foremost, that whatever innovation is occurring, that safety is baked into product design and safety is baked into the testing of the product,” he said.

Bloomberg contributed to this report.

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