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From Products Liability Law Daily, October 22, 2018

NHTSA orders private transit operator to stop transporting children in driverless shuttle

By Colleen Kave, J.D.

Late last week, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a letter to Transdev North America, a private transportation provider, demanding that the company stop transporting school children in Southwest Florida’s Babcock Ranch community on the EZ10 Generation II driverless shuttle. The agency warned Transdev that failure to take appropriate action may result in a civil penalty action, the voiding of the company’s temporary importation authorization, and/or the exportation of the vehicle. Transdev, in turn, informed NHTSA that it will stop unapproved operations (NHTSA Press Release, October 19, 2018).

In March 2018, NHTSA granted Transdev permission to import the driverless shuttle temporarily for testing and demonstration purposes. The company requested permission to use the shuttle for a specific demonstration project, not as a school bus, and failed to disclose or receive approval for this use. School buses are subject to rigorous Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that take into account their unique purpose of transporting children, a vulnerable population. Accordingly, Transdev’s use of the driverless shuttle to transport school children was unlawful and in violation of the company’s temporary importation authorization. The action taken by NHTSA aligns with the Department of Transportation’s guidance related to automated vehicles, as most recently outlined in Automated Vehicles 3.0: Preparing for the Future of Transportation [see Products Liability Law Daily’s October 5, 2018 analysis].

Condemning Transdev’s actions, NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King stated, "Innovation must not come at the risk of public safety. 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."

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