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Self-driving company stops school bus runs after NHTSA orders halt

By Nicholas Sakelaris

Oct. 23 (UPI) -- Federal safety officials have ordered a self-driving vehicle company to stop using autonomous buses to shuttle children to and from school in Florida, in what appears to have been a regulatory misunderstanding.

Earlier this year, the National Highway Transportation and Safety Administration gave Transdev permission to begin testing self-driving shuttles. However, it said, that did not equal approval to use them with school children.

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The company has been using its autonomous buses to transport children in Babcock Ranch in Southwest Florida. Last week, the NHTSA ordered it to stop. It said regulators did not give Transdev permission to use its EZ10 Generation II driverless shuttle as a school bus.

NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King said innovation can't come at the risk of public safety.

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"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," NHTSA Deputy Administrator Heidi King said in a statement.

King added that school buses must pass a number of safety regulations before they can transport schoolchildren.

"Transdev failed to disclose or receive approval for this use. School buses are subject to rigorous Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards that take into account their unique purpose of transporting children, a vulnerable population," the NHTSA said.

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The NHTSA said it received confirmation from Transdev that it would comply with the order.

"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," the company said in a statement Monday.

"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."

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Transdev said the bus operated just one day per week with just five students for three-block trips to and from school. It never traveled faster than 8 mph and the families of the riding children gave specific approval, it added.

The company also said the bus carried a safety operator on board to monitor the vehicle and supervise the children. A promotional video shows the safety operator helping the children exit the bus once they arrive at school.

"Transdev does not -- nor would ever -- sacrifice safety for progress and is fully committed to compliance with all relevant regulations," the company said.

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