Safety Data May Spur Public Trust in Driverless Cars

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By Michaela Ross

Consumer adoption of self-driving technologies could be boosted by sharing safety data and updating the federal government’s 5-Star safety rating program, industry and research groups said during a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee hearing March 28.

Advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), such as lane departure warnings and automatic emergency braking, are the building blocks for the fully self-driving vehicles of the future. But drivers have shied away from some of these features, in part because of confusion or a lack of understanding of their capabilities, panelists told the Digital Commerce and Consumer Protection Subcommittee.

According to initial estimates, over 40,000 Americans died in traffic accidents last year, marking a sharp rise in fatalities over the last two years, full committee chairman Greg Walden (R-Ore.) said in his opening statement. Advanced driver assistance systems could reduce that number up to 82 percent for passenger vehicles, according to National Transportation Safety Board data.

One way to increase consumer adoption is to start at car dealerships, panelists said. The National Highway Transportation System, or NHTSA, could include crash avoidance technologies in its 5-Star rating system, Dr. Kay Stepper, vice president for automated driving and driver assistance systems at Robert Bosch LLC, said. NHTSA could also require more information about these systems in the stickers located on all new vehicles’ windows, he said. The stickers, known as Monroney labels, are required by federal law for new vehicles and list price and other information.

“At the end of the day, new vehicles are being bought from dealerships, and consumers are being consulted by dealership personnel,” Stepper told the panel. Adding information about the vehicle’s advanced driving systems to the Monroney stickers would help staff guide consumers through the purchase, he said.

Linking Safety Data

In 2015, NHTSA asked for public input on a plan to update its New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) and include advanced driver assistance technologies within the program’s 5-star safety rating system. An agency spokesperson confirmed no further actions have been taken on this initiative.

Better highway safety research may also boost adoption of these technologies, David Zuby, chief research officer at the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, said.

The federal government could require automakers to contribute to a database linking a vehicle’s driver assistance technologies to its vehicle identification number (VIN) number or a QR code, a trademark for a data-encoding system that uses a small dots-and-squares pattern and is designed to be read by a smartphone scanner, Zuby said. This would allow for more accurate measurements of safety performance and adoption rates for the new technologies, he said.

Last September, NHTSA released voluntary guidelines for the rollout of autonomous vehicles that encouraged automakers and technology companies to develop plans to share safety data.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michaela Ross in Washington at mross@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Keith Perine at kperine@bna.com

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