The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has halted the operation of all 16 EasyMile autonomous shuttles in 10 states where they were running. The stop comes after braking the vehicle injured a passenger in one of the shuttles. NHTSA is examining the buses for “safety issues related to both vehicle technology and operations.” The vehicles will be allowed on roads, but they will not be allowed to carry passengers while NHTSA conducts its investigation. EasyMile believes this decision illustrates that NHTSA believes its vehicles are safe for others on the road.
In Columbus, Ohio, a passenger fell from their seat when the shuttle was driving 7mph “and made an emergency stop as it is programmed to do for safety.” EasyMile noted that it operates at low speeds for this reason, so it can make emergency stops. The shuttles in Columbus are “the first public self-driving shuttle in a residential area.” There are two shuttles operating a 2.9-mile service area; the vehicles can go up to 25 mph. There is a person on each vehicle that has continuous access to the vehicle’s driving controls.
In a post, French company EasyMile, stated, “It is paramount to EasyMile to use rigid safety protocols in every aspect of our technology. We continuously work to improve it and the comfort of passengers, and are running test loops on the ground for further analysis into the suddenness of the stop. We also train our Customer Service Ambassadors to remind passengers to hold on when the vehicle is in motion and place signage in the shuttles to the same effect.”
This is not the first time someone was injured as a passenger in an EasyMile shuttle. An elderly passenger in Utah was injured and required medical attention after the vehicle came to a sudden emergency stop after detecting an object. As a result, the maximum speed was decreased. Signs were added warning passengers the shuttle may make sudden or quick stops.
EasyMile claims that these vehicles are operating as they should and are programmed to do, however, NHTSA is not taking safety lightly as it is reviewing these incidents. This comes after the National Transportation Safety Board criticized NHTSA’s regulatory shortcomings in a deadly Tesla Autopilot accident.