Federal Regulators Suspend Driverless Shuttles Across Country After Columbus Incident

Feb 26, 2020

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has suspended 16 self-driving shuttles across the country operated by the company EasyMile following an incident in Columbus' Linden neighborhood last week.

On February 20, one of two vehicles used as part of a Smart Columbus pilot project braked suddenly with two passengers and an operator on board after leaving Linden's Douglas Community Recreation Center. A woman sustained minor injuries after falling to the floor.

Smart Columbus put the brakes on the Linden LEAP project while it investigated the incident. On Tuesday, the NHTSA announced it was suspending 16 EasyMile autonomous shuttles in 10 states pending an examination of safety issues.

“NHTSA will continue to work with all affected parties, including EasyMile and local authorities, to evaluate potential future vehicle operations, consistent with applicable legal requirements and public safety,” a statement said.

EasyMile operates vehicles in Delaware, Utah, Texas, California, Colorado, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia and New Jersey.

According to a statement from EasyMile, the shuttle was driving at about 7 miles per hour when it made an emergency stop. The company says its vehicles are programmed to make a sudden stop when they detect a safety risk.

Smart Columbus spokeswoman Alyssa Chenault says the Linden shuttles have carried about 50 riders since the pilot service began earlier this month.

“We’ve said that this is a pilot where we’re testing new technology," Chenault says. "We’re learning from it, and in the case of the Linden pilot, we’re using it to improve the lives of our residents and close transportation gaps. So we’re really looking to get to the bottom of what happened.”

The LEAP, which stands for "Linden Empowers All People," is considered the first daily driverless shuttle route in a residential area anywhere in the nation. It makes four stops along a three-mile route, including the Linden Transit Center and St. Stephen's Community House.

Shuttles are free to ride and can seat up to 12 passengers, and have an operator onboard to oversee the technology. The one-year pilot program is funded through a $40 million Smart Columbus transportation grant.

Columbus also operates a driverless shuttle route along the Scioto Mile.