The European Transport Safety Council is repeating its call for an EU road collision investigation authority that would conduct forensic analysis of crashes involving automated vehicles on EU roads.

The call follows the announcement by Mercedes-Benz concerning the launch of ‘Drive Pilot’, a system that allows for hands-off automated driving in traffic at speeds up to 60 km/h on German motorways. This is the first approval of a Level 3 automated driving system for use in Europe. Such systems can drive without driver supervision under certain circumstances.

International technical and safety standards for such systems were approved by the UN agency UNECE last year. Changes to national German road rules to permit use of such systems under certain conditions were passed back in 2017.  But the system is not yet approved for use across the EU, and several EU Member States have yet to make the necessary changes to road rules that would permit driving hands-free.

“As the market for vehicles equipped with Level 3 systems will quickly increase in the coming years, we urgently need a guarantee that crashes where a driving system was in charge of the vehicle are investigated and the results made public,” says Frank Mütze, automation specialist at ETSC. “We also see substantial pressure at the UNECE to increase the permitted operating speed of such systems, and to allow for automated lane changes – factors that would dramatically increase the potential risks. It would be irresponsible for the EU and Member States to allow riskier systems, without a system of robust oversight and investigation when things go wrong. The fact is that today, we have no data on the number of crashes that occur when assisted driving systems were active. This situation cannot continue now that we have systems coming on to the market that are responsible for driving the vehicle.”

ETSC is calling for:

  1. An EU agency to oversee or conduct investigations into crashes involving automated systems and to publish all findings in order to help prevent future collisions;
  2. Mandatory reporting to the EU agency by manufacturers of all collisions involving active automated systems on public roads in the EU as well as collisions involving existing Level 2 assisted driving systems;
  3. Direct access to in-car data for relevant authorities to enable in-depth, independent, forensic crash investigations;

In the USA, the National Transport Safety Board (NTSB) has investigated several collisions involving Level 2 assisted driving systems, and provided useful recommendations to manufacturers. The UK is currently consulting on the setting up of a road crash investigation authority.

Within the EU, most authorities do not routinely access in-vehicle data when investigating collisions due to the technical complexity and legal barriers. The Netherlands has taken a leading role in investigating collisions involving automated systems and recently found a method for accessing in-vehicle data without the manufacturer’s involvement. ETSC says the EU must put a proper system of regulatory oversight in place before the further roll-out of automated systems in the EU is allowed.

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