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Car Crash Reporting Guidelines Prepare for Self-Driving Vehicles

The Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria's latest edition has new instructions for reporting the emerging sector of autonomous vehicles.

Officials from many corners of the automotive and technology industries, along with government, see the era of self-driving cars arriving in the not-too-distant future.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the Governors Highway Safety Association just completed the latest edition of the Model Minimum Uniform Crash Criteria, which sets the guidelines for reporting car crash data by law enforcement and other authorities.The MMUCC’s fifth edition now has specific instructions related to reporting crashes related to autonomous vehicles.

“Almost every day, you read about another company that plans to develop AVs, so the widespread deployment may happen sooner than everyone had anticipated,” said Barbara Harsha, of BLH Consulting, the firm managing the MMUCC update project. “Since MMUCC is only updated every five years, the community of data collectors and users wanted to be ready.”

The U.S. is expected to have several thousand autonomous vehicles on the road by 2020 and as many as 4.5 million self-driving cars by 2035, according to IHS Automotive

The type if information requested by the MMUCC related to autonomous vehicles includes levels of automation, systems used and other information. 

To date, 19 states have passed legislation related in some way to autonomous vehicles, while still others are considering new rules. Additionally, governors from four states have issued executive orders creating councils and working groups of stakeholders and public officials dedicated to looking at how their states should proceed.

“It wasn't anticipated that law enforcement would be able to collect this information now but, by including it in MMUCC, it sends a signal that they should be prepared to do so in the near future. Collecting crash data on AVs will help manufacturers make adjustments and provide information to policy makers on needed laws and regulations for AVs,” said Harsha.

The changes to the guidelines around recording car-crash data come with added emphasis by officials with NHTSA and the Governors Highway Safety Association (GHSA) on the need for standard, across-the-board reporting of accident data.

"So much is changing on our roadways,” said Jonathan Adkins, executive director for GHSA, in a statement. “And traffic fatalities are increasing at an alarming rate. We need good data to make informed decisions about how to change driver behaviors and save more lives. GHSA strongly encourages states to align their crash records with MMUCC and collect comprehensive, consistent data that is critical to pinpointing regional and national trends."

Car fatalities are on the rise not because cars are less safe — they aren’t — but because of a range of factors related to issues like the economy, gas prices and distracted drivers, say observers. The estimated number of motor vehicle deaths in 2016 reached 40,200, according to the National Safety Council. Fatalities increased 6 percent from 2015 and exceeded 40,000 for the first time since 2007.

“There is a strong correlation between a good economy and increased crashes,” said Harsha. “With more disposable income, people tend to drive more. More driving means more exposure and, hence, more crashes. Low gasoline prices also contribute to increased driving,” she added.

Kara Macek, senior director of communications at GHSA, said the reason for the increase in highway fatalities is multipronged, including more cars on the roads and more distracted drivers.
“Cars themselves are actually getting safer, it’s the human behind the wheel we still have to worry about,” said Macek.

The MMUCC 5th Edition is the result of an 18-month collaboration between NHTSA, GHSA, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA), the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), and subject matter experts from state Departments of Transportation (DOTs), local law enforcement, emergency medical services, safety organizations, industry partners, and academia. The traffic records community and general public also contributed comments. The next update of MMUCC is tentatively scheduled for 2022.

Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.