Regulators Block Self-Driving School Bus

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration shut down a self-driving school bus pilot program in Florida. The pilot was run by the French firm Transdev, and involved a small shuttle that travels at a glacial 8mph. To put that in context, the average Boston marathoner runs faster than this shuttle.

There’s a little bit of back and forth jawing between NHTSA, which says, “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.”

Transdev, for its part, Transdev “believed the pilot met the requirements of the testing and demonstration project approved by NHTSA for adults and children to ride on the same route.”

Realistically, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting hurt at 8mph. I mean, it’s possible, but the speed is so slow.

On the other hand, painting a self-driving shuttle yellow and calling it a school bus is basically inviting a public outcry, at least at this point in the development of autonomous vehicles. If the purpose of the trial was to demonstrate that adults and children can ride in a vehicle together, it seems like there are several intermediate steps to hit before calling anything a school bus.

There’s also relatively little to gain by automating school buses. Buses are remarkably safe. And since the cost of the driver is amortized over all of the passengers, the financial benefits of automation are low.

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