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.

Current event data recorder (EDR) requirements for cars focus on the milliseconds prior to a crash, when the impact is great enough to cause airbag deployment. To properly evaluate AV technology when a crash happens, investigators such as those at the National Transportation Safety Board need to see both pre- and post-impact data. Knowing information such as whether a person or the machine was in control, what speed the vehicle was moving, and whether and when the brakes were applied can help establish what went wrong and how a similar crash might be prevented in the future.

Further, understanding if there was a secondary impact and how this additional impact affected crash avoidance technology will go a long way towards improving software and hardware and therefore improving safety for everyone on the road. Without having access to these crucial seconds before and after impact, it is almost impossible to determine if the cause of the crash was a sensor malfunction, processing failure, operating error, cyberattack or simply another human-operated vehicle.

Be smart: Without uniform parameters for AV data recorders and clear rules allowing independent crash investigators to access, assess and compare information across manufacturers, public confidence in AV technology is likely to continue to decline, jeopardizing long-term adoption.

Jason Levine is executive director of the Center for Auto Safety.

Go deeper

Transcripts show George Floyd told police "I can't breathe" over 20 times

Photo: Gary Coronado/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Newly released transcripts of bodycam footage from the Minneapolis Police Department show that George Floyd told officers he could not breathe more than 20 times in the moments leading up to his death.

Why it matters: Floyd's killing sparked a national wave of Black Lives Matter protests and an ongoing reckoning over systemic racism in the United States. The transcripts "offer one the most thorough and dramatic accounts" before Floyd's death, The New York Times writes.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. ET: 11,921,616 — Total deaths: 546,318 — Total recoveries — 6,506,408Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 6 p.m. ET: 3,035,231 — Total deaths: 132,042 — Total recoveries: 936,476 — Total tested: 36,878,106Map.
  3. Public health: Deaths are rising in hotspots — Déjà vu sets in as testing issues rise and PPE dwindles.
  4. Travel: United warns employees it may furlough 45% of U.S. workforce How the pandemic changed mobility habits, by state.
  5. Education: New York City schools will not fully reopen in fallHarvard and MIT sue Trump administration over rule barring foreign students from online classes.
  6. 🎧 Podcast: A misinformation "infodemic" is here.
2 hours ago - Health

Fighting the coronavirus infodemic

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

An "infodemic" of misinformation and disinformation has helped cripple the response to the novel coronavirus.

Why it matters: High-powered social media accelerates the spread of lies and political polarization that motivates people to believe them. Unless the public health sphere can effectively counter misinformation, not even an effective vaccine may be enough to end the pandemic.