The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has partially suspended the US operations of France’s EasyMile after a passenger in Ohio was injured while riding in one of the company’s self-driving shuttles. EasyMile can continue operating its shuttles while NHTSA investigates, but the company can’t carry any passengers.
EasyMile currently operates its self-driving shuttles in a handful of US cities, including in Columbus, Ohio, where two of them have been running along a nearly 3-mile loop in a residential area at speeds of up to 25 miles per hour, according to Reuters. But last week, one of those shuttles made an “emergency stop” from a speed of just 7 miles per hour, and a passenger fell out of their seat as a result.
A local news report says the passenger “sought medical attention” and that Smart Columbus (the citywide transportation project that hired EasyMile) halted the service out of caution. The two shuttles started running the loop earlier this month.
Despite the agency taking a very hands-off approach to regulating autonomous vehicles under the Trump administration, this is not the first time NHTSA (which is part of the Department of Transportation) has intervened in a self-driving shuttle trial. In 2018, the agency suspended an autonomous school bus project in Florida that used EasyMile shuttles, calling the program “unlawful.”
The decision to suspend EasyMile’s operations came on the same day that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) pilloried NHTSA during a hearing about a fatal crash involving Tesla’s Autopilot system. Members of the NTSB — which is an independent government agency with no regulatory authority — took NHTSA to task for not regulating advanced driver assistance systems like Autopilot and for not responding to multiple safety board recommendations.
“I want to join in expressing disappointment by the lack of leadership which NHTSA has shown in the area of addressing issues related to the safe development and employment of vehicles with driving automation systems,” NTSB board member Thomas Chapman said at one point.