The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is requesting that proposed limits on the Tesla Autopilot system be implemented.
Tesla Never Responded to NTSB
In a letter sent on October 25, 2021, NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy reminded Tesla CEO Elon Musk of recommendations the agency issued four years earlier that would limit where driver-assist systems may operate. The NTSB had also requested that the electric vehicle maker implement a system that would ensure that drivers are paying attention while using Tesla Autopilot.
Tesla and five other auto manufacturers received the NTSB’s recommendations in 2017. While the other companies replied with plans of action, Tesla never officially responded.
The NTSB is an independent federal agency that investigates civil transportation accidents, though it has no regulatory authority. The agency may only make recommendations to auto manufacturers or other federal agencies like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“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,” Homendy wrote.
Tesla Autopilot Cited in Multiple Fatalities
Homendy also discussed multiple fatal collisions investigated by the NTSB that may have involved flaws with the Tesla Autopilot system, some of which have resulted in wrongful death lawsuits filed by car accident attorneys. These include a 2016 incident in Williston, FL, in which a Tesla crashed into a semitrailer, killing driver Joshua Brown.
The NTSB found that Brown ran his vehicle on Tesla Autopilot on roads where it was not designed to operate safely. The agency also determined that Autopilot failed to effectively monitor the driver to make sure that he was paying attention.
“Full Self-Driving” Rollout Undercuts Safety Claims
Additionally, Homendy criticized Tesla’s decision to release “Full Self-Driving” software to customers for testing on public roads, saying the rollout undercuts the company’s claims that safety is its primary design requirement. She argued that these tests are being done “without first addressing the very design shortcomings” with Tesla Autopilot that led to earlier fatalities.
While the NTSB has long advocated for multiple technologies to prevent car accidents and save lives, Homenda noted that “it’s crucial that such technology is implemented with the safety of all road users foremost in mind.”
Tesla has said that Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” are only driver-assist systems and cannot actually drive themselves, despite their names. Drivers should always pay attention and be ready to take action, according to the company.
Additional Federal Scrutiny for Tesla
The NTSB letter arrives as other federal agencies step up scrutiny on Tesla over its partially automated driving systems. Just hours earlier, the NHTSA posted a document showing that the company wants to keep its response to an eleven-page letter from the agency secret.
In August 2021, the NHTSA requested detailed information from Tesla as part of a wide-ranging investigation into how Autopilot behaves when first responder vehicles are parked while crews address crashes and other road hazards.
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