NHTSA May Be Preparing Formal Investigation of Tesla Autopilot
A recent report from Bloomberg claims that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may be preparing a formal investigation into Elon Musk’s Tesla over the company’s driver-assistance Autopilot system. According to a recent report from Bloomberg, the NHTSA may be considering a formal investigation into Elon Musk’s electric car manufacturer Tesla in relation to the firm’s driver-assistance system, known as Autopilot. This report comes just one day after correspondence between the NHTSA and Tesla showed that the NHTSA served tesla with a cease-and-desist letter over Tesla’s claims that it’s Model 3 vehicles was the safest car in the world.
Bloomberg writes that the NHTSA appears to have reservations about Tesla’s Autopilot feature:
“I think what this shows is that NHTSA has concerns about Autopilot performance,” Frank Borris, a former director of the Office of Defects Investigation at NHTSA, said after reviewing the documents. He said the subpoenas could mean the agency “is gathering information that would be supportive of a formal investigation.”
Tesla commented on the NHTSA’s interest in Autopilot stating that such interest from a regulating body is normal: “Any regulator like NHTSA would be interested in new vehicle technologies and how they make our highways safer,” Tesla said in a statement to Bloomberg. “We routinely share information with the agency while also balancing the need to protect customer privacy. Tesla has required subpoenas when customer information is requested in order to protect the privacy of our customers.”
However, Bloomberg stated that not everyone is so completely convinced that there a subpoena is “business as usual” for the NHTSA “The fact that they’ve had to issue subpoenas about it indicates that NHTSA hasn’t been satisfied by Tesla’s responses, because that’s just not normal,” said Borris, who’s now an auto-safety consultant.
Bloomberg notes that the NTHSA’s interest comes shortly after a number of car crashes involving Tesla vehicles:
NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board have investigated several Tesla crashes in recent years, and at times NTSB has clashed with company officials.
The safety board removed Tesla from its regular participation in its probe of the Model X crash in March 2018, saying the company disclosed information about the case in spite of an agreement not to do so while the probe was underway.
Bloomberg notes that according to a recent study by Consumer Reports, Tesla’s Autopilot system lagged behind competitors in keeping drivers engaged. The Super Cruise feature developed by General Motor alerted drivers to pay attention within four seconds of noticing their attention drifting while Tesla’s Autopilot waits 24 seconds. Bloomberg writes:
Data on driver engagement that is included in Tesla’s communications with NHTSA point to a similar issue, said David Friedman, a former deputy administrator at NHTSA during the Obama administration, who’s now vice president of advocacy at Consumer Reports.
“Data like this show the system does not appear to be able to keep the driver engaged, and it’s one company, not the others in the space,” Friedman said. “To me, that raises real red flags about a possible defect.”