With self-driving cars poised to revolutionize America’s roadways and vehicle safety, top safety experts are calling upon developers of autonomous or self-driving vehicles to take immediate action to protect the safety of child passengers.
In a report released today, a 17-member panel composed of top-level safety and transportation experts recommended that child passenger safety issues be addressed along with adult passenger safety during testing and development of autonomous vehicles. Test vehicles are being piloted in nearly two dozen U.S. cities.
The Children in Autonomous Vehicles Blue Ribbon Panel brought together automobile and technology representatives, consumer advocacy groups, research institutes and pediatrics organizations. The panel was convened by Safe Kids Worldwide.
“Having the child safety community at the table during the development and innovation stages rather than after vehicles and features are in production will decrease risks and enhance child safety,” the panel’s report states. The panel also says that developers should be transparent about how their tests are designed to meet the unique needs of children so regulations and laws “ensure children will be properly restrained, have the highest level of protection in a crash, and can be appropriately supervised during a trip.”
There is also a need to develop best practices around the appropriate age at which children can ride alone or when there is a lack of supervision. Some of the potential challenges the panel identified include:
- How will children be kept safe if a supervising adult in the vehicle is sleeping or impaired?
- What if the autonomous vehicle breaks down or is re-routed to an unknown location?
- What if a child cannot communicate a problem with the autonomous vehicle?
“There is tremendous safety and mobility potential for self-driving vehicles,” said Safe Kids Worldwide President and Panel Chair Torine Creppy. “As auto and equipment manufacturers develop and test self-driving vehicles, they all should take steps now to protect child passengers in order to mitigate or eliminate future risks. If we don’t think through the implications for child passenger safety together now, children will be at serious risk for years to come.”
The report calls on all developers of autonomous vehicle technology to:
- Seek the input of child safety experts throughout the autonomous vehicle development and design phases to ensure the safety needs of children at all stages and ages are accommodated.
- Conduct research that helps inform appropriate levels of supervision of children in autonomous vehicles.
- Recommend marketing and advertising for autonomous vehicles shows families with children riding according to best practices.
- Conduct testing that considers the needs of children and be transparent about such testing to instill confidence that children are a priority.
- Support modifications to federal safety standards, if necessary and appropriate, to ensure child safety systems are incorporated into vehicles with different seating configurations.
The report also highlights specific recommendations the traffic safety community can begin addressing now:
- Develop a universal definition of “driver” or “guardian” for autonomous vehicles transporting children through age 12.
- Develop model legislation for states that maintains protection for children of all ages.
- Educate first responders and law enforcement officers on autonomous vehicles, especially in cities and states where these vehicles are being tested.
- Develop and use consistent language and messaging with the public.
The members of the panel are hoping to facilitate an ongoing national conversation about these important recommendations.
ABOUT SAFE KIDS WORLDWIDE
Safe Kids Worldwide is a nonprofit organization working to protect children from preventable injuries, the number one cause of death for kids in the United States. Safe Kids works with an extensive network of more than 400 coalitions in the U.S. and with partners in more than 30 countries to reduce traffic injuries, drownings, falls, burns, poisonings and more. Since 1988, Safe Kids has helped reduce the U.S. childhood death rate from unintentional injury by 60 percent. Learn how to keep all kids safe at safekids.org.