Feds Gear Up for Future of Self-Driving Crashes

By: Bridget Clerkin August 24, 2017
New government guidelines ask police to note whether a vehicle involved in a wreck had self-driving capabilities.
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They say luck favors the prepared—and the government isn’t leaving anything to chance.

A recent spate of changes was introduced to the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria (MMUCC)—an exhaustive set of guidelines dictating how law enforcement, first responders, and other authorities should report car accidents—in order to account for the burgeoning presence of self-driving cars on the road.

Officers and other authorities of the future will be asked to record whether a vehicle involved in an accident has self-driving capabilities and to discern if the driverless program was in use at the time of the accident, as well as the vehicle’s level of autonomy.

Jointly prepared by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the Governors Highway Safety Association, the MMUCC is updated every 5 years to account for just the type of changes that new elements like self-driving cars could introduce to the road.

Still, despite the fact that the vehicles are due to hit the streets in just a few years, the technology remains very much in its infancy—and the document admits as much. It lists the updates under a section called “Dynamic Data Elements” and warns that the new ideas will be “subject to technical correction on a more frequent basis as our understanding of the phenomena evolve.”

Among anticipated complications, the report lists the lack of any centralized database on autonomous vehicle information. Currently, the process of building and testing the autos is extraordinarily piecemeal, with each state essentially left to its own devices when dealing with the technology—although Congress is working on legislation that would set national ground rules for self-driving cars.

Some states, like California, also make a point to track any roadway incidents involving autonomous vehicles already. By updating the federal guidelines, however, new data can be collected about the performance of the cars on a national scale—a step that could prove important as the inevitable ubiquity of the vehicles begins to set in.

To best prepare for the total impact self-driving cars will have on society, then, it seems the federal government must reexamine the way it documents their total impacts.

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