Are the Feds Actually Thinking About Regulating Tesla?

A red Tesla Model S

Image: Tesla

In a rare bit of good news for Autopilot, Tesla’s Level 2 driver assistance system, the National Transportation Safety Board recently determined that it was not in use during a tragic wreck involving a Tesla Model S that killed two people. Instead, the wreck appears to have been caused by driver error. Unfortunately for Tesla, that doesn’t mean the NTSB is fully on board with it beta-testing unproven software on public streets. In fact, the NTSB just sent a letter to Tesla that suggests a change in the agency’s approach to Tesla may be coming.

The letter was obtained by transportation journalist and Visiting Fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School of public policy, David Zipper. It was sent to Elon Musk by NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy and focuses on Tesla’s failure to respond to earlier safety recommendations. Specifically, the NTSB wanted Tesla to limit Autopilot’s use to highways and address its lack of a driver monitoring system.

“Four years ago, on September 28, 2017, we issued Safety Recommendations H-17-41 and -42 to Tesla based on our investigation of the 2016 collision between a Tesla Model S operating with an engaged Level 2 automation system and a tractor semitrailer truck in Williston, Florida,” wrote Homendy. If that sounds like a long time to avoid the NTSB, we’d agree. As would several other automakers that the letter says quickly responded to similar recommendations.

The letter then goes on to point out that in the time Tesla failed to respond to the NTSB’s initial safety recommendations, another near-identical crash occurred.

It also blasts Tesla for claiming there’s no need to restrict Autopilot’s use because it’s still a Level 2 system that requires the driver to pay attention and be ready to take over at all times. That’s because the NTSB concluded in several investigations that Autopilot’s lack of limitations was a contributing factor in those wrecks.

To say Homendy sounds unhappy would probably be an understatement. Toward the end of the letter, she really let Tesla have it.

Homendy then went on to say, “If you are serious about putting safety front and center in Tesla vehicle design, I invite you to complete action on the safety recommendations we issued to you four years ago.” Ouch.

So yeah, it’s probably safe to say the NTSB isn’t happy with Tesla. The question is, though, is this actually lead to some real safety regulations for advanced driver-assistance systems?



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