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NHTSA mandates crash reports for self-driving cars, driver-assist systems

If a vehicle equipped with a system like Tesla's Autopilot or GM's Super Cruise is involved in a crash, the agency must get a report within 24 hours.

Tesla Model 3 Autopilot

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on Tuesday exercised its authority to order mandatory crash reports for all vehicles equipped with a driver-assist technology that shares the responsibility of actually piloting a motor vehicle. Any car equipped with a technology ranked at Level 2 through Level 5 (the highest) on the SAE's scale of autonomy will now be subject to ordered crash reports, the agency said in the announcement.

Within one day of a company learning of a vehicle crash with a driver-assist system onboard, NHTSA will now require a report from the automaker. These crash reports must also detail if there was a hospital-treated injury, fatality, airbag deployment or if the crashed vehicle required a tow. Additionally, the report must detail if pedestrians or cyclists were involved in the crash. After the initial findings, a company will then need to submit an updated report flush with details within 10 days for the agency's data collection. The reporting will take place electronically via a new NHTSA form and companies will need to update reports monthly with any new information, should there be any.

The mandate is a massive step toward transparency when it comes to systems such as Tesla's Autopilot or General Motors' Super Cruise -- perhaps the two most popular driver-assist systems on the market. According to NHTSA, "This action will enable [the agency] to collect information necessary for the agency to play its role in keeping Americans safe on the roadways, even as the technology deployed on the nation's roads continues to evolve." 

The action follows a deadly crash involving a Tesla and potential Autopilot use. Authorities remain unsure if anyone was even behind the wheel when a Model S swerved off the road, crashed and caught fire, killing two occupants.

Access to this data will help NHTSA put together potential patterns with the systems and technology to home in on any potential safety concerns or defects

"Gathering data will help instill public confidence that the federal government is closely overseeing the safety of automated vehicles," said Steven Cliff, NHTSA's acting administrator.