NHTSA has launched an online tracking tool that allows the public to view certain information submitted by states and companies that are testing vehicles equipped with automated driving systems on U.S. roadways.
U.S. safety regulators announced the online mapping tool during a virtual event Wednesday with supporters including Rep. Fred Upton of Michigan and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, both Republicans.
The interactive tool shows information on automated vehicle testing locations, vehicle and AV technology manufacturers, vehicle type and activity, operational speed and how the vehicle is monitored for safe operation, among other data elements. Participating companies can choose what information they submit to NHTSA.
The tool currently has data for on-road testing activities in 17 cities, including Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio; Pittsburgh; Phoenix; San Francisco; and Washington.
"The department is addressing legitimate public concerns regarding safety and security without hampering progress and removing unnecessary and burdensome red tape," Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said in recorded remarks for the event.
"Transparency is so important for the development of automated vehicles," she said. "This new Web platform will make on-road testing information accessible to government, industry and the public alike. This will improve safety and help everyone better understand how automated vehicles are being tested in our communities."
The effort is part of the agency's Automated Vehicle Transparency and Engagement for Safe Testing — or AV Test — Initiative, a voluntary pilot program developed to publicly display information on the testing and development of automated driving systems nationwide.
The initiative launched in June with the goal of providing the public with more access to data on existing automated vehicle testing and other information from states on local AV activity, legislation and regulation.
Participating companies in the AV Test Initiative include automakers Fiat Chrysler Automobiles and Toyota Motor Corp. and newer entrants such as self-driving startup Nuro. Participating states include Arizona, California, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah.
Safety, industry stakeholders split
Critics have urged NHTSA to mandate federal safety standards for automated driving systems, while some industry stakeholders have applauded the voluntary and flexible aspects of the AV Test Initiative.
The Center for Auto Safety argued the agency's program will provide "little, if any, relevant safety information."
"In the best-case scenario, the result would be a map identifying only those manufacturers who choose to participate and, in the worst case, a collage of unreliable data masquerading as proof of safety with a veneer of respectability provided by NHTSA's implicit endorsement," the consumer advocacy group said in comments submitted to NHTSA last month.
The National Transportation Safety Board has said NHTSA should play a critical role in ensuring the safe testing of automated vehicles on public roads and require companies to submit safety self-assessment reports to the agency.
The board argued the initiative's lack of specific requirements or evaluation by NHTSA or the Department of Transportation "will likely lead to a patchwork of incompatible information from states and developers," according to comments submitted to the agency.
"For the AV Test Initiative to be successful, a minimum set of report information is critical," the NTSB said.
General Motors was one of the first automakers to submit a voluntary safety self-assessment to NHTSA in 2018. In recent comments, the automaker asked NHTSA "to continue a flexible approach for companies to share publicly available information" and encouraged the agency to maintain voluntary participation in the AV Test Initiative.
A coalition representing some automakers, technology, ride-sharing and other companies also applauded the voluntary participation.
"By encouraging companies and localities to voluntarily submit information about AV testing — data that will be made available through an online, public-facing platform — the AV Test Initiative helps build public awareness of and confidence in the safety of AVs and the potential benefits that their deployment will bring," the Self-Driving Coalition for Safer Streets said in its comments.
The coalition's members include automakers Ford and Volvo as well as mobility and technology firms such as Google affiliate Waymo, Uber and Cruise — GM's majority-owned self-driving subsidiary.