NHTSA declares that Google’s AI ‘Driver’ Can Qualify For US Roads

In a letter to Google’s Chris Urmson, the director of the company’s self-driving car project, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) concludes that it would consider the company’s self-driving vehicles (SDVs) as having a driver under federal regulations, despite being controlled by a computer.  This means that self-driving or autonomous vehicles are a step closer to America’s highways.  NHTSA posted a detailed response on its Web site. Google’s SDVs are fully autonomous, meaning that the operations of these vehicles are controlled exclusively by a self-driving system (SDS), according to the search giant.  The SDS is an artificial-intelligence (AI) driver, which is a computer designed into the motor vehicle itself that controls all aspects of driving by perceiving its environment and responding to it. Now, according to the NHTSA, that’s enough to qualify for driving. “NHTSA will interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants,” according to the NHTSA, which was released this week. “We agree with Google its (self-driving car) will not have a ‘driver’ in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years.” Google’s cars are designed to perform all safety-critical driving functions and monitor roadway conditions for an entire trip. “The next question is whether and how Google could certify that the (self-driving system) meets a standard developed and designed to apply to a vehicle with a human driver,” according to the NHTSA.  

Debate Over Seat Belts on Buses

On Feb. 4, 2015, H.B. 2582 was introduced in the West Virginia House of Delegates. This bill states, “Beginning July 1, 2015, the state board of education shall install seat belts in school buses over a five-year period, until all school buses are outfitted with seat belts, which seat belts shall meet the standards set and approved by the Society of Automotive Engineers, Inc.” The bill was referred to the House Committee on Education and then the House Committee on Finance. This bill was reintroduced during the 2016 legislative session on Jan. 13 of this year. It was then referred to the House Committee on Education. The head sponsor of the bill is Delegate Nancy Peoples Guthrie, D-Kanawha. Other sponsors of the bill are Delegates Linda Longstreth, D-Marion, Dana Lynch, D-Webster, Larry Rowe, D-Kanawha, Isaac Sponaugle, D-Pendleton, and Andrew Byrd, D-Kanawha. Mark R. Rosekind, the administrator of the National Highway Traffic Safety Adminstration (NHTSA), talked about seat belts on school buses in a speech he made in November 2015 at the 41st summit of the National Association for Pupil Transportation. “The NHTSA has not always spoken with a clear voice on the issue of seat belts on school buses. So let me clear up any ambiguity now: The position of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is that seat belts save lives. That is true whether in a passenger car or in a big yellow school bus. And saving lives is what we are about. So NHTSA’s policy is that every child on every school bus should have a three-point seat belt. School buses should have seat belts. Period,” Rosekind said. Rosekind also said in his speech that the NHTSA will launch a series of research projects to study the safety benefits of seat belts, and it will contact governors of the states that require seat belts to nominate participants to give recommendations on how to start a nationwide “seat belts on school buses” movement, which will study how to overcome financial difficulties associated with installing seat belts on school buses. The big question in this debate is whether seat belts on school buses will help or hurt students. From 2004 to 2013 there were 340,039 fatal motor vehicle traffic crashes and 0.4 percent, or 1,214, of these were school transportation-related. A total of 1,344 people, or an average of 134 people a year, were killed during this time period nationwide in school transportation-related crashes, according to the NHTSA. Of the people who died, 8 percent were occupants of school transportation vehicles and 71 percent were occupants of other vehicles. California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York and Texas are the only states that have some type of seat belt law for school buses, according to the National Conference of State Legislators’ website. The NHTSA has done research about seat belts on school buses. What do officials think in the Marion County area about installing seat belts on school buses? “The school buses themselves, the frame is reinforced steel built for safety purposes,” said Chad Norman, administrative assistant in charge of transportation. “They have found that the cabin that students sit in, with the high seat in front of them and the high seat in back of them, actually prevents major injuries. “In the event that we have a situation, students could exit quickly without being belted in and the driver having to come and actually unbelt each one of the students.” The concern about students being belted in is that in certain situations, like a rollover accident, or a bus entering water, the seat belts “could present a safety issue,” Norman said. Once the NHTSA has conducted its research, “it’ll be interesting to see what their studies show — first determining if it is indeed a need,” Norman said. School buses have other features that offer safety, according to Ron Schmuck, transportation supervisor for Marion County Schools. “The floors of the bus sit high enough and the seating compartment is above where most accidents are happening. An accident would happen under the floor due to the height of the buses. It lessens the impact of any passengers on it,” Schmuck said. Some Marion County bus drivers are also against installing seat belts on buses. “They would be a dangerous weapon,” Roger Stover, a bus driver for 41 years, said, referring to students hitting each other with the seat belts. “If we have to evacuate that bus in a hurry for some ungodly reason, it’s going to present a problem, especially with the little ones. I’m strictly against them,” Stover said. “If a bus would be in an accident that the bus would be on its side or its top, the latch (of the seat belts) isn’t coming off. Now you’re going to have to cut every child loose. Especially if there is a fire on the bus, you couldn’t get them all off,” said Terry Markley, a bus driver for 20 years in Marion County. The NHTSA has done research about seat belts on school buses that concludes there may be some benefit to using lap/shoulder belts. In 2002, the NHTSA presented a report to Congress that concluded that using lap belts has “little, if any, benefit in reducing serious-to-fatal injuries in severe frontal crashes.” “The use of combination lap/shoulder belts, if used properly, could provide some benefit on both large and small school buses. Lap/shoulder belts can be misused if children put the shoulder portion behind them. NHTSA’s testing showed that serious neck injury and perhaps abdominal injury could result when lap/shoulder belts are misused. Assuming 100 percent usage and no misuse, lap/shoulder belts could save one life a year,” the NHTSA said in the report.

NHTSA: People Can’t Figure Out How to Shift Fiat Chryslers Into Park

NHTSA says a badly-designed automatic shifter is confusing drivers, causing them to exit a vehicle that’s still in gear. 121 crashes and 30 injuries have been reported. This past summer the National Highway Traffic Safety administration opened a preliminary investigation into just over 400,000 Jeep Grand Cherokees after some owners alleged their vehicles would roll away after being shifted into Park. Now, the NHTSA has more than doubled the number of Jeep, Dodge and Chrysler vehicles being investigated and the agency now blames the problems on a confusing shifter design that doesn’t adequately indicate to drivers that they haven’t engaged Park. The Detroit News reports that the NHTSA is conducting an engineering analysis on more than 856,000 Fiat Chrysler vehicles. The agency has received reports of 314 roll-away incidents, involving 121 crashes and 30 injuries, caused when drivers exited a vehicle after they thought they’d shifted into Park. And while the initial investigation treated the issue as a mechanical defect, it’s looking more and more like the problem has at least something to do with driver error due to a poorly-designed shifter. The investigation involves 3.6-liter V6-powered 2014 and 2015 Jeep Grand Cherokees, 2012-2014 Dodge Chargers and 2012-2014 Chrysler 300s—all of which use a push-button console shift lever that looks like a traditional PRNDL shifter. But in operation, the electronic shifter works more like a joystick, returning to its center position once you’ve selected your gear. There is no gate around the shifter; the lever itself moves through somewhat subtle detents, and the whole range of motion is incredibly short compared to a traditional mechanical shifter, perhaps two or three inches from end to end. The console shifter on a 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300 models included in the investigation use an identical shifter. It’s worth pointing out that the aforementioned Fiat Chrysler vehicles are not the only ones that use this shifter, which is called the Monostable and is produced by transmission supplier ZF.  As an example, Audi A8 uses an identical shift knob, with the thumb button on the left and a PRNDS gear pattern with no separate button for Park. In testing, NHTSA found that the electronic gear shifter’s operation is “not intuitive” and offers “poor tactile and visual feedback to the driver, increasing the potential for unintended gear selection.” In Fiat Chrysler vehicles equipped with this shifter design, opening the driver’s door when the car is not in Park triggers a chime and an instrument cluster alert, and the engine cannot be turned off with the car in gear; however, NHTSA says “this function does not protect drivers who intentionally leave the engine running or drivers who do not recognize that the engine continues to run after an attempted shut-off.” So while it may seem silly that drivers could be confused by the operation of an automatic transmission, the reality is that this shifter design operates differently enough to require more concentration than a traditional shifter. Folks who’ve been driving for years, who are used to the way a mechanical PRNDL shifter operates, probably don’t think consciously about the act of shifting—it’s the kind of act we’ve committed to muscle memory years ago. NHTSA has upgraded its treatment of this problem in FCA vehicles from an investigation to an “engineering analysis,” though no plans for a recall have been announced at this time. FCA went to a different shifter design in model-year 2015 for the Dodge Charger and Chrysler 300, and changed the Jeep Grand Cherokee shifter for 2016. via Detroit News

Automatic  Braking Systems reduce rear-end collisions

A new study conducted by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has found that vehicles equipped with front crash prevention systems are far less likely to be involved in a rear-end accident than those vehicles without such systems. Though not a shocking conclusion, the results show that there is a real benefit to front crash prevention systems. According to the study, automatic braking systems reduce rear-end collisions by about 40 percent on average. Forward collision warning systems, which warn drivers of an impending impact but don’t apply the brakes, were found to reduce rear-end crashes by 23 percent.  The IIHS estimates that if all vehicles were equipped with automatic braking systems there would have been 700,000 fewer rear-end collisions in 2013. “The success of front crash prevention represents a big step toward safer roads,” says David Zuby, IIHS chief research officer. “As this technology becomes more widespread, we can expect to see noticeably fewer rear-end crashes.” Moreover, the study found that rear-end crashes involving vehicles equipped with auto braking had a 42 percent decrease in reported injuries. That figure jumps to 47 percent with Volvo’s City Safety system. “Even when a crash isn’t avoided, systems that have auto brake have a good chance of preventing injuries by reducing the impact speed,” says Jessica Cicchino, the study’s author and the Institute’s vice president for research. Forward collision warning systems alone, however, didn’t have a measurable effect on injuries. The study found that such warning systems reduced injuries by only 6 percent, which isn’t statically significant. “It’s surprising that forward collision warning didn’t show more of an injury benefit, given that HLDI (Highway Loss Data Institute) has found big reductions in injury claims with the feature,” said Cicchino. Although auto brake systems are clearly beneficial, IIHS notes that such systems are often bundled with other technologies like adaptive cruise control, so their exact effectiveness is difficult to track. The IIHS along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced last year that they has reached an accord with automakers to make auto braking standard across all vehicles, but a date for that implementation has not been set. Read more: http://www.leftlanenews.com/front-crash-prevention-systems-reduce-crashes-injuries-iihs-study-90863.html#ixzz3yf5zFj27

The Value of IIHS Safety Ratings

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is a non-profit organization that performs testing and research on new cars in order to assign safety ratings.  The IIHS conducts various crash tests on new vehicles and assigns ratings based on how they do. They have five main tests to determine crashworthiness: Moderate overlap front, small overlap front, side, roof strength and head restraint. They then rate the vehicles as “good,” “acceptable,” “marginal,” or “poor” in each test. While there are undoubtedly numerous factors in addition to vehicle design which effect a vehicle’s crash worthiness, the IIHS tests have proven to be fruitful. Their ratings help consumers make better informed decisions and have pushed automakers to produce safer vehicles.  A comparison of death and injury reductions for vehicles with a “good” versus a “poor” rating in IIHS tests shows the following:
  • Front offset with moderate overlap test: Fatality risk in head-on crashes is 46% lower
  • Side Impact Crash Test: Fatality risk in side impact crashes 70% lower
  • Rear Impact Test (seat only): Neck injury risk in rear crashes is 15% lower and the risk of neck injury requiring 3+ months treatment is 35% lower

Automatic Braking Systems may become standard in Passenger Vehicles

Recently, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) released a special report that calls for automatic braking system to become standard in all cars. The board asserts that avoidance systems can help to prevent and lessen the severity of rear-end collisions. Since the NTSB does not actually set policy, its report is essentially an appeal to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to require new cars and trucks to include an automatic braking system.

In the report, the NTSB cited statistics from 2012 which indicated 1,700 deaths and 500,000 injuries occurred as a result of rear-end collisions. The board believes that an electronic avoidance system could have mitigated up to 80% of these deaths and injuries.

The automatic braking systems that the NTSB would like to make standard in new vehicles relies on a camera and laser radar technology to stop or slow down a car if it detects an object ahead, including another vehicle. The technology is currently available from most automotive manufacturers as part of a special safety package costing several hundred dollars extra. However, automakers remain reluctant to make it a standard feature.

The NTSB report criticizes “slow and insufficient action” by NHTSA, with regard to implementing this as standard technology in passenger and commercial vehicles, as well as “a lack of incentives for manufacturers” that have the ability to put the technology in more vehicles but only offer it in more expensive models.

The report advises manufacturers to add collision-warning systems and emergency braking into all vehicles. The NTSB also advises consumers to consider vehicles that have collision warning and emergency braking functions.

Electronic Stability Control is coming for Motorcycles

When electronic stability control (ESC) first appeared on luxury cars in the 1990s, its effect was described as “the hand of God”, reaching down and righting the driver’s mistakes.  But what vehicle is less tolerant of mistakes than a motorcycle, with its propensity to tip over and subsequently expose its rider to all manner of pain and suffering?  What if, as with ESC, engineers developed a system that would stand in the background, unnoticed, waiting to reach out with its electronic hand at just the instant when the bike is poised to tumble? What you’d have is something not unlike the Bosch Motorcycle Stability Control System (MSC). It is fitted to the Ducati 1299 Panigale superbike and KTM 1190 Adventure, while BMW Motorrad, the motorcycle subsidiary of BMW Group, employs some of its components in conjunction with the company’s own designs on all its models. Bosch’s development objective was not for the computer to ride the bike automatically, but to serve as an otherwise invisible safety net for riders, says Frank Sgambati, director of marketing and product innovation at Bosch’s North America division. “The draw for motorcycle riding is the excitement,” he acknowledges. “We don’t want to interfere with or change that experience. We only want [MSC] to appear in panic situations.” Anti-lock braking, a feature that helps dramatically reduce the likelihood of a crash, has been around for many years for motorcycles.  Bosch’s MSC system builds on its existing ABS hardware, adding a yaw and pitch sensor to the ABS module so that the computer knows how far over the bike is leaning and whether it is tilting upward from acceleration or downward from braking.  This may all seem like wonderful news for the cause of motorcycle safety, if only MSC were available on less expensive bikes to accommodate new riders, who would most stand to benefit from such a system.

NHTSA proposes standards to prohibit novelty helmets

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has proposed standards that would effectively ban novelty helmets—helmets that don’t meet DOT standards but are frequently marketed and sold for on-road use.  The proposal establishes preliminary screening criteria to help law enforcement agencies quickly identify helmets that are incapable of meeting the minimum performance requirements. The preliminary screening involves examining the thickness of the inner liner and the outer shell, and of the liner’s ability to resist deformation, which indicates its ability to absorb crash energy. “Motorcycle rider deaths are disproportionally high. Our nation lost 4,668 motorcyclists in 2013 alone and protective helmets could have saved many of those lives,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. Motorcycle helmets that meet DOT safety standards help save more than a thousand lives every year, according to NHTSA estimates. A study of motorcyclists injured in crashes and transported to a shock trauma centers showed that 56 percent of those wearing a novelty helmet had serious head injuries, compared to 19 percent of riders who were wearing a DOT-certified helmet. “Wearing a helmet that meets DOT standards can literally mean the difference between life and death,” said NHTSA administrator Mark Rosekind. “Our proposal ensures that when motorcyclists put on a helmet it offers that life-saving protection.” Click here to view the full proposal.