An analysis of government data is disputing a finding by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) promoted by Tesla that its Autopilot feature is safe. According to a report in the Insurance Journal, the study was released by Quality Control Systems Corporation, a Maryland-based data analysis company, which looked at NHTSA’s 2017 conclusion that there was a 40 percent reduction in the rate of crashes by Tesla vehicles that resulted in the deployment of airbags after they were equipped with Autosteer, a part of the automaker’s suite of automated driver-assist systems it markets as Autopilot.
Questions About Autopilot Feature
The data that NHTSA used to make that determination was not complete, according to Quality Control Systems. It attempted to recreate the agency’s analysis using the same data. NHTSA’s original crash-reduction finding got a lot of attention as an apparent validation of Tesla’s Autopilot system from the U.S. government’s auto safety regulator. The inquiry was prompted by a 2016 fatal crash in Florida that killed a former Navy SEAL. He was driving a Tesla Model S with the Autopilot engaged. That inquiry ended with the NHTSA not finding an auto defect.
But, it was that crash, which raised a lot of questions about Tesla’s Autopilot feature. A number of subsequent crashes involving Tesla vehicles on Autopilot have raised the question as to whether the feature should even be called Autopilot as it lulls drivers into a sense of false security. Tesla has said after the Florida crash that drivers should keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take over at a moment’s notice even if they have Autopilot engaged. So, why is the feature called the Autopilot when it’s not exactly piloting the vehicle?
Many Questions Still Remain
As auto defect lawyers, we are extremely concerned not just about existing autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles that are on our roadways. Whether it’s putting vehicles on the market or testing them on our public roadways, it simply should not be done until this technology is ready for primetime. And in most cases, it simply isn’t. While tech companies and automakers may be in a rush to make profits, it is the duty of our regulators and legislators to make public safety a top priority. No cutting-edge technology is more important than a human life.