Mini Self-Driving School Bus Stopped by NHTSA

There appears to controversy over the testing autonomous vehicles–for busing children to school. NHTSA admonished Transdevs’ pilot program in Florida. The company claims the bus only operated with five children for one day a week for five weeks at 8mph with a human safety monitor on private roads.

The U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) h issued a letter directing Transdev North America to immediately stop transporting school children in the Babcock Ranch community in Southwest Florida on the EZ10 Generation II driverless shuttle. Transdev’s use of the driverless shuttle to transport school children is unlawful and in violation of the company’s temporary importation authorization. NHTSA’s action aligns with the Department’s guidance related to automated vehicles, as most recently outlined in Automated Vehicles 3.0: Preparing for the Future of Transportation.

“Innovation must not come at the risk of public safety,” said Heidi King, NHTSA Deputy Administrator.  “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,”
In March 2018, NHTSA granted Transdev permission to temporarily import the driverless shuttle for testing and demonstration purposes. Transdev requested permission to use the shuttle for a specific demonstration project, not as a school bus. Transdev failed to disclose or receive approval for this use. School buses are subject to rigorous Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that take ino account their unique purpose of transporting children, a vulnerable population.

NHTSA notified Transdev that failure to take appropriate action may result in a civil penalty action, the voiding of the temporary importation authorization, and/or the exportation of the vehicle.  Transdev has informed NHTSA that it will stop unapproved operations.

In response Transdev issued this news release:

The autonomous school shuttle operation at Babcock Ranch was intended as a six-week pilot program to complement the existing weekend AV service provided to community residents. NHTSA and Transdev discussed the operation last week, and while we have not yet received the letter NHTSA has referred to directing us to stop the operation, Transdev voluntarily elected to stop the pilot one week earlier out of deference to NHTSA.

This small pilot was operating safely, without any issues, in a highly controlled environment. Transdev believed it was within the requirements of the testing and demonstration project previously approved by NHTSA for ridership by adults and children using the same route.

Following are pertinent facts about the school shuttle pilot:

  1. The school shuttle at Babcock Ranch operated one day a week, on Fridays only, for five weeks.
  2. A maximum of only five students, the same students, rode the shuttle in the morning and afternoon for the three-block long trip during the course of the five days of the pilot.
  3. A person acting as a safety monitor was always on board and a maximum speed of 8 mph helped ensure the comfort and safety of every student who chose to ride the shuttle during the pilot program.
  4. The shuttle was operated entirely on private roads within the Babcock Ranch Community, which will have some 250 homes constructed by year-end.
  5. Families provided specific approval for their children to ride the school shuttle; again it was the same shuttle that parents and children have been using on weekends as part of the Babcock Ranch experience since November 2017.

We designed this pilot to further enhance our learning about what types of services would be most appreciated by residents, so that as the Babcock community grows, we can deliver a robust suite of mobility options.

Transdev does not – nor would ever – sacrifice safety for progress and is fully committed to compliance with all relevant regulations. We