Driverless School Bus Testing Shut Down By NHTSA as “Irresponsible” and “Inappropriate”

Federal highway transportation officials have ordered testing be shut down for a self-driving school bus shuttle, calling the unapproved operation unlawful and placing innovation in front of the safety of children. 

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a press release on October 19, indicating that it was directing a Florida tech company to stop transporting students on a test version of a driverless school bus, warning that the company was acting outside of its approved testing permissions.

In March, the NHTSA granted Trandev North America temporary permission import their EZ10 Generation II driverless shuttle for testing and demonstration purposes. However, the agency discovered Transdev was illegally using the driverless vehicle to transport school children in the Babcock Ranch community of Southwest Florida.

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The driverless shuttles are capable of holding up to 12 people and were being used to pick children up from a designated area. Transdev stated the vehicles have operating speeds of up to 30 miles per hour, and that a safety attendant would be on board during the routes. However, the NHTSA directed the company to immediately cease transporting children, calling the operation “irresponsible” and “inappropriate”.

“Innovation must not come at the risk of public safety,” Heidi King, NHTSA Deputy Administrator, said in the press release.  “Using a non-compliant test vehicle to transport children is irresponsible, inappropriate, and in direct violation of the terms of Transdev’s approved test project,”

Dozens of autonomous projects are being worked on across the U.S. to test driverless technology, however, the NHTSA has not approved any of them for use as school buses. According to the NHTSA, Transdev failed to receive approval to use the shuttles as school buses, which must meet vigorous Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that take into account their unique purpose of transporting children.

Despite Transdev’s approved use of the shuttles as only a demo project, the company released a statement in August announcing plans that it would begin operating the first ever autonomous school shuttle this fall.

NHTSA has notified Transdev that failure to take appropriate action and cease live operation transporting children may result in a civil penalty, the voiding of the temporary importation authorization, and the exportation of the vehicle.


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