NTSB Releases Results of Investigation Into Collision Between Self-Driving Shuttle and Commercial Truck

The investigators found that the probable cause of the minor 2017 crash was a combination of driver error and a lack of easy access to a manual controller.

In an unusual move, the National Transportation Safety Board has released the results of an investigation into a minor 2017 collision between a commercial truck and an autonomous shuttle in Las Vegas, Nevada. The reason? The agency wanted to look into how an automated vehicle could be involved in such a crash.

“The NTSB would normally not investigate a minor collision, but the involvement of a highly automated vehicle warranted having our investigators examine the circumstances surrounding the collision,” said Kris Poland, the deputy director of the Office of Highway Safety.

Poland added: “We wanted to examine the process of introducing an autonomous shuttle onto public roads as well as the role of the operator, the vehicle manufacturer, and the city. The NTSB also examined the technology and the safety considerations that were in place at that time.”

The investigators found that the truck driver’s actions and autonomous vehicle attendant’s “lack of easy access” to a manual controller was the probable cause of the November 2017 collision. No one was injured among the seven passengers in the shuttle, the shuttle attendant and the truck driver, according to the NTSB, and there were only minor damages to the vehicles involved.

The shuttle did not have a steering wheel, brake pedal or accelerator pedal, only allowing for manual operation using a hand-held controller. The shuttle was equipped with sensing devices that had hazard detection capabilities, including light detection sensors, two cameras and a differential global positioning system.

The collision took place after the truck driver began backing into an alley and assumed the shuttle would stop a “reasonable distance” away from his vehicle, which was attached to a refrigerated trailer.

The shuttle’s sensor system successfully tracked the truck and almost came to a stop without human intervention. Although the attendant eventually pushed an emergency stop button and the shuttle passengers tried to get the truck driver’s attention, the shuttle was too close to the truck, leading to a small collision.

The hand-held controller for manual operation was not near the attendant at the time of the collision, and the individual never retrieved it. Since the accident, Keolis – the public-service transportation company operating the shuttle – implemented a new policy allowing attendants to remove the controller from a storage location at the beginning of a trip and keep it with them throughout the journey.

According to the NTSB, the crash was the first involving a self-driving vehicle operating in public service. The agency’s full investigative report on the collision can be found here.

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