Federal Officials Put the Brakes on a Driverless School Bus | Tech Top


Under the Bus

U.S. regulators gave Transdev an inch, and it took a mile.

That's the takeaway from a statement released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on Friday. It's not happy that the French transportation company has been ferrying kids to school on a school bus — a use for its autonomous of which the agency says it did not approve.

New School

In March, the NHTSA agreed to let Transdev import a driverless shuttle into the country from France so it could test and demonstrate the vehicle on U.S roads. But the sort of testing the NHTSA agreed to isn't the only testing Transdev conducted.

In September, the company launched a pilot project in Babcock Ranch, Florida. Every Friday, the company's 12-person shuttle transported children to and from Babcock Neighborhood School, which services students in grades K through 7.

The trip took just a few minutes each way, and the driverless school bus, which did have a safety driver on board, never exceeded a speed of 8 miles per hour.

Safety Failure

Those safety precautions weren't enough to stop the NHTSA from shutting down the project, though.

In its Friday statement, the agency noted that Transdev never asked permission to use its shuttle as a school bus.

“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.”

Clearly, transitioning to an era in which driverless vehicles are the norm is going to require rigorous testing of the vehicles in real-world situations. But testing them without the proper permission and with children on board? That earns Transdev a big red “F” in our grade book.

READ MORE: Feds Shut Down Self-Driving School Bus Pilot in Florida [Ars Technica]

More on driverless cars: The US Government Wants to Allow Fully Autonomous Vehicles on US Roads

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