Alliance releases driver-monitoring safety principles amid Tesla crashes

Alliance releases driver-monitoring safety principles amid Tesla crashes

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation on Tuesday unveiled several safety principles related to driver monitoring in vehicles with driver-assist systems as part of a public statement by major U.S. automakers to ensure the technologies are safely and effectively used.

The principles focus on effective ways for determining appropriate driver engagement while educating the public on the benefits and limitations of these driver-assist features.

The auto trade association's effort to address driver monitoring comes after reports of Tesla vehicle crashes around the country — some of which have involved the EV maker's Autopilot driver-assist system.

U.S. safety regulators at NHTSA have investigated 28 Tesla crashes to date — 24 of those cases remain active.

Tesla is not a member of the alliance.

The group represents most major automakers in the U.S. such as General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Toyota Motor Corp. and Volkswagen Group as well as some suppliers and tech companies that are working on automated driving technology.

"High-profile crashes involving Level 2 systems where drivers were not appropriately engaged are eroding consumer acceptance of and consumer confidence in Level 2 systems and could have implications for acceptance of more highly automated vehicles," John Bozzella, CEO of the alliance, said during a press call Monday.

Level 2 systems refer to automated driving-assist features where both lane-centering and adaptive cruise control are simultaneously engaged, the alliance said. But no automaker sells a vehicle for public purchase today that is self-driving.

In conversations with regulators, Tesla has said its Autopilot and the "Full Self-Driving" feature under development are driver-assist systems that require an attentive human who's responsible for driving.

NHTSA has not yet issued specific regulations or performance standards for driver-assist systems.

"It was clear to our member companies that we needed to begin a public conversation about the importance of effective driver monitoring" in vehicles with driver-assist systems, said Bozzella, who is testifying Tuesday at a Senate subcommittee hearing on automotive safety and innovation.

Specifically, the alliance is advising that driver-assist system information "reasonably reflects" the functionality without implying greater capability, especially by product name or in promotional materials. The group also supports providing driver monitoring as a standard feature on vehicles equipped with driver-assist systems.

Other principles backed by the alliance include escalating alerts that warn drivers when they disengage in the driving task, in-vehicle cameras as a component of driver-monitoring systems and an evaluation of the potential for driver misuse or abuse of the system during the design phase.

"It's intended to be the start of a dialogue with key stakeholders, including policymakers and regulators," Bozzella said when asked whether the alliance was expecting regulatory action by NHTSA.

Meanwhile, three Democratic U.S. senators on Monday introduced legislation mandating performance standards for driver-monitoring systems and requiring the installation of those systems in new vehicles.

Bozzella said the bill — known as the Stay Aware for Everyone, or SAFE, Act — shows "alignment" between the challenges and solutions identified by both the industry and members of Congress.

"I'm happy to see that type of alignment and what it suggests to me is there's an opportunity for more dialogue with policymakers and regulators and other stakeholders to advance this conversation," he said.