Feds Open Investigation of Autonomous Vehicle Companies

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Biggest series of investigations since the advent of autonomous driving…

It’s been a tough couple of weeks for autonomous vehicle companies as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is opening investigations, and expanding others, into the alleged safety performance of Alphabet’s WaymoFord’s 0.49%↑ BlueCruiseTesla TSLA 0.25%↑GM’s GM 0.88%↑ Cruise and Amazon’s AMZN -1.40%↓ Zoox.

NHTSA said it was opening an investigation of Waymo’s robotaxis that allegedly violated traffic safety laws.  The agency said its preliminary evaluation, for hundreds of Waymo vehicles, includes 22 reports of 22 incidents—including 17 collisions, according to published reports.

The biggest autonomous vehicle makers are under investigation (Image: Waymo).

NHTSA said it was opening a new investigation to assess whether Tesla fixed the 2 million cars it recalled in December.  The alleged safety concerns surrounded the company’s Autopilot driver assistance system.

The federal agency is looking into two crashes involving Zoox.  In addition, NHTSA is investigating the details of Ford’s BlueCruise-equipped vehicles that were involved fatal crashes.

NHTSA investigated Cruise last year after pedestrian injury reports. Recently, Cruise reached a settlement, worth between $8 million to $12 million, with a woman its driverless vehicle last year pinned and dragged on a San Francisco street, according to Bloomberg.

“These companies are pioneers that have propelled the industry forward, but progress comes with a high price tag.  One key challenge for manufacturers has been balancing the cost and performance of current systems,” said Carl JacksonProvizio’s head of corporate strategy..  “Take [lidar] as an example, where the cost of the technology is so high it is prohibitively expensive to put it in all vehicles. However, continuous improvement is essential.”

Jackson says that it’s clear that full autonomy is a tough problem to solve, though manufacturers have made huge strides to getting there.  “Affordability of safety technology has long been a major obstacle to its scalability and widespread implementation. It’s also no secret that humans have a poor safety record driving globally,” he said.


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