The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will lift a temporary suspension for autonomous vehicle company EasyMile, allowing passengers to ride its EZ10 driverless public shuttle when COVID-19 measures allow. The operation of these vehicles was halted after a sudden stop caused a minor passenger injury.
In a May 15 press release, EasyMile explained that its new Safety Passenger Enhancement Plan contributed to the NHTSA’s decision to lift the suspension. “The plan also has implications for the wider autonomous shuttle industry in North America with guidelines for all autonomous shuttles imported into the US,” the statement said. Unlike autonomous cars, the company’s autonomous shuttles are designed for public transportation and can carry passengers at speeds up to 15 miles per hour.
The temporary suspension was originally enacted because of a shuttle’s emergency stop. An internal safety mechanism triggered the stop at 7.1 miles an hour. Unfortunately, this caused a passenger to fall from her seat. According to EasyMile, similar situations “occasionally happen in other public transport like subways or trams, but in those, the braking is more abrupt.” As part of the new safety measures, the company plans “to increase awareness that sudden stops can happen for safety, [add] more signage, [make] audio announcements, and [enhance] Safety Operator training to remind passengers to hold on with feet firmly on the floor.”
EasyMile’s Senior Vice President Sharad Agarwal is confident that the shuttles will remain a safe and effective method of transportation. “We’re excited about continuing to demonstrate and deliver the benefits of autonomous shuttles to the US in the safest way possible, and in alignment with NHTSA,” writes Agarwal. “We hope what comes out of this is an understanding of how safe and beneficial autonomous shuttles are to communities, and that it helps improve safety and service for all self-driving vehicles on the road in the future, and today.”