The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants to make collision avoidance technology a standard feature in all new cars, but the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has doubts about whether these new systems are ready for widespread use. Collision avoidance systems use sensors to detect other vehicles and minimize damage from crashes. The software warns drivers and prepares the vehicle for a crash by adjusting seatbelts and moving seats to optimal positions, or in some cases, automatically slowing down the vehicle to avoid a crash altogether. The NTSB views this is a public safety issue, arguing that the technology should be required; however, automotive software is not regulated and might not be as safe as it appears.
On the one hand, collision warning systems have been proven to reduce accidents. Earlier his week the NTSB released a statement urging immediate action, citing reports that suggest more than 80 percent of deaths and injuries from rear-end collisions could have been avoided if the cars had been equipped with this technology. The auto industry considers these systems to be optional added safety features that should be left up to consumer choice. So far auto makers have resisted making these systems standard in all cars. (But let’s not forget that seat belts and air bags were also once optional safety features.)
Most importantly, this is a relatively new technology that doesn’t always work the way it should. While the NTSB pushes for more collision avoidance systems, the NHTSA is simultaneously investigating complaints that the systems that are designed to prevent crashes might actually increase the risk of collision. There have been several instances when systems mistake roadside objects for oncoming cars and decelerate when they shouldn’t. Honda is recalling 19,502 Acuras because the forward collision avoidance system may incorrectly interpret metal fences or guardrails as obstacles and unexpectedly apply the brakes. The NHTSA is also investigating similar complaints for 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokees.
It shouldn’t be surprising that such a new technology would encounter real world problems that didn’t show up during testing. The NTSB wants the NHTSA to create tests and standards to use a car’s collision avoidance system as part of its safety rating. While the auto industry might not be ready to make collision avoidance systems required features yet, industry standards would be a reasonable compromise. Despite most new cars having hundreds of embedded sensors, auto software still is not regulated. Different types of avoidance systems are available from each automaker, and the lack of standardization increases the likelihood of potentially dangerous flaws.
The need for regulating auto software will become more urgent as autonomous vehicles hit the roads. The collision avoidance systems we have been describing are considered level two automation, according to the NHTSA’s classification system. Level three vehicles like Google’s autonomous car, or even fully automated level four cars, are already well into development and testing. We will certainly need software standards for self-driving cars in the near future, so tackling collision avoidance systems is a logical starting point.
Leave a Reply