Stories by Jason Levine

Expert Voices

The case for certifying AVs before they take to the road

Illustration of a steering wheel with a gold medal pinned to it.
Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

There are currently no performance standards against which manufacturers can self-certify autonomous vehicles, as they do for conventional cars and trucks. Until the adoption of such standards, one way to assess the safety of AVs would be a certification program that includes objective safety criteria, simulations, road tests, and third-party review.

Why it matters: As more AVs are tested on public roads, a third-party certification program could improve public trust, reduce the risks of injury or death, and deliver on industry safety promises — ultimately advancing the technology and its adoption.

Expert Voices

AV diagnostic systems needed for road safety but easy to hack

a mechanic holds a diagnostic device with display screen above open car hood and engine block
A mechanic working with a car diagnostic system. Photo: Andrew Matthews/PA Images via Getty Images

Under current regulations, vehicles must allow connection to their diagnostic systems for analysis and repair. This access point is crucial for ensuring that both conventional and future self-driving cars are safe on the road, yet it is vulnerable to hacking by physical and wireless intrusions.

Why it matters: Autonomous vehicles are highly dependent on networked component controllers that enable different parts of the car to communicate. This means that a security breach could open up even more operational controls in an AV, including safety-critical functions. Despite these risks, there are still no rules in place to mitigate this significant security vulnerability.

Expert Voices

When AVs crash, limited data access can impede investigations

people crowd around a self-driving Uber vehicle in a parking lot
Uber's driverless Ford Fusion. Photo: by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images

In these early stages of development, autonomous vehicles raise pressing questions whenever they crash, especially if the accident involves injury or death. But when the drivers may be either computers or humans, it becomes much harder to determine fault. Accordingly, it's not unusual to see manufacturer’s statements or police reports with conflicting explanations of the cause, even before professional investigators have started their work.

The big picture: Unlike accidents in aviation, rail travel and shipping, AV crashes require investigators to rely on the carmaker and technology provider (usually not the same) for all data from the vehicle’s recording systems and for help interpreting it. Yet in most cases there are no mandates in place that require the AV to record sufficient crash data or compel the manufacturer to turn over any such data.