The investigation into car crashes involving Tesla’s Autopilot autonomous driving system deepened this week as US road safety authorities sent requests for data on automated vehicles to twelve other automakers.
On Monday, the United States’ National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent letters to major manufacturers, including Ford, Toyota, Volkswagen and BMW, requesting documents relating to vehicles with “advanced driver assistance systems.” level two.
Level two vehicles are “partially automated” and can automatically control driving systems such as steering, braking and acceleration.
NHTSA’s request for 12 major automakers for data comes two weeks after a similar request for Tesla’s autopilot crash data.
What is NHTSA asking for?
The security agency asked the companies to provide details on how many Level two vehicles they have sold in the United States, the software they use, and the total distance traveled with automation features turned on.
Manufacturers are also required to provide NHTSA with reports on accidents involving automated vehicles, lawsuits involving technology, and customer complaints about their level two cars.
The agency requested the data in order to perform a “benchmarking” of cars equipped with level two driver assistance systems, it said, as it aims to determine whether the crash in vehicles shutdown is just a Tesla problem, or a larger problem with automation in general.
Car manufacturers contacted by NHTSA must respond or face a fine of up to € 97 million, the agency said.
Tesla under investigation
Tesla’s autopilot system investigation was launched in August after a series of accidents involving company cars and stationary emergency service vehicles in the United States.
Last month, NHTSA said it had identified 11 crashes since 2018 in which Teslas on autopilot or cruise control warning traffic struck vehicles in locations where first responders were using flashing lights, flares, an array. of illuminated arrows or cones warning of dangers.
The investigation focused on crashes that left 17 injured and one dead, before another fatal crash in New York City was added to the agency’s investigation earlier this month.
Vehicles with level two automation systems like Tesla’s are described by the Society of Automotive Engineers as “partially automated.” Officially, level two systems require the driver to be very attentive, “to remain engaged in the task of driving and to monitor the environment at all times”.
Tesla has previously said that autopilot is a driver assistance system and that drivers should be ready to intervene at all times.
Leads to distraction
However, a report by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers released on Tuesday suggests that drivers using autopilot may pay less attention to the road than those who drive without.
The data revealed that while the autopilot function – which can control lane changes and maintain a safe separation from other vehicles – was activated, drivers looked away from the road more often and for longer periods of time.
“Patterns of visual behavior change before and after disengaging the autopilot. Before disengaging, drivers looked less at the road and focused more on areas unrelated to driving than after transitioning to manual driving,” said writes the researchers.
The study used data from an ongoing MIT driver automation study that uses cameras to track the movements of Tesla drivers to determine their “gaze pattern” – how much time they spent watching the road or elsewhere while driving.
“The higher proportion of off-road looks before disengaging manual driving was not offset by longer looks ahead,” they added.
The study also found that off-road glances tended to be longer with the autopilot than without, and glances at Tesla’s center console – which houses the vehicle’s large infotainment display. – were always up to 0.9 seconds longer when the system was in use.
Musk’s bold claims
In April, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted about crash data he said showed Tesla on autopilot were almost ten times less likely to crash than the average vehicle.
Company figures cited by Musk showed that, on average, there was one crash for every 4.19 million miles (6.74 million km) traveled with the autopilot on, and one in 2 .05 million miles (3.29 million km) for Tesla using the company’s active safety features as automatic braking and blind spot collision warnings.