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Investigation Blames Steering 'Deviation' For Linden LEAP Incident

Much like Columbus' other self-driving shuttles, the LEAP vehicles can seat 12 and include one operator overseeing the technology.
Nicole Rasul

Smart Columbus has ended its investigation into a February 20 incident in which a self-driving shuttle vehicle in Linden suddenly braked and caused a passenger to fall to the floor.

Officials say several factors caused the Linden LEAP vehicle, which was traveling at 7.1 miles per hour, to stop without warning. The report says the incident “was triggered by a slight deviation in the steering of the shuttle, similar to the steering wheel slipping in a car.” One woman sustained minor injuries.

It also says that other factors, such as objects in the vehicle’s path, weight distribution, or road conditions, may have also contributed to the braking.

"The shuttles are programmed to stop when there is a discrepancy between the defined rules and current conditions," reads a statement from Smart Columbus.

The Linden LEAP was considered the nation's first daily driverless shuttle route in a residential neighborhood. It had only been operating a few weeks when the incident occured.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration subsequently suspended 16 self-driving shuttles operated by the same company in 10 states across the country.

Smart Columbus says its working on adjustments to reduce sudden stops, but will not eliminate them. The NHTSA has recommended providing seatbelts and more passenger safety information on autonomous shuttles.

The LEAP makes four stops along a three-mile route, including the Linden Transit Center and St. Stephen's Community House. The shuttles are free to ride and can seat up to 12 passengers, and include an operator who oversees the technology.

Due to the restrictions surrounding the coronavirus pandemic, officials are still awaiting word from state and local governments on when the Linden LEAP can resume operations.

The one-year pilot program is funded through a $40 million transportation grant.

Debbie Holmes began her career in broadcasting in Columbus after graduating from The Ohio State University. She left the Buckeye state to pursue a career in television news and worked as a reporter and anchor in Moline, Illinois and Memphis, Tennessee.