Former NHTSA Head: Tesla’s “Defective” Autopilot Uses Drivers As “Guinea Pigs”, Should Be Recalled

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Perhaps the most notable take on the recent fatal Autopilot related accident in Delray Beach, Florida has come from a former acting head of the NHTSA.

For months, we have been asking why the NHTSA has been dragging its feet in taking action regarding Tesla’s obviously mislabeled and misinterpreted driver assistance software, “Autopilot”, which continues to be at the center of numerous Tesla accidents reported on by the mainstream media.

Though the NHTSA has yet to take any meaningful action regarding Autopilot, they may be compelled to pay closer attention after comments made yesterday by a former agency official.

Speaking to the LA Times, David Friedman, who was acting head of the NHTSA in 2014 and is now vice president of advocacy for Consumer Reports, said he was “surprised the agency didn’t declare Autopilot defective after the [2016] Gainesville crash and seek a recall.”

“Their system cannot literally see the broad side of an 18-wheeler on the highway,” Friedman said.

He also said that Tesla’s system was “too slow” to warn the driver to pay attention, unlike other systems that Consumer Reports has tested from GM. Recall, just days ago we wrote about the family of a killed Model X driver suing Tesla, claiming his “state-of-the-art” Tesla lacked safety features, such as an automatic emergency braking system, which the family pointed out was available on less expensive vehicles from other carmakers.

Friedman continued:

“Tesla needs a better system to more quickly detect whether drivers are paying attention and warn them if they are not. Tesla has for too long been using human drivers as guinea pigs. This is tragically what happens.”

“There are multiple systems out on the roads right now that take over some level of steering and speed control, but there’s only one of them that we keep hearing about where people are dying or getting into crashes. That kind of stands out,” Friedman concluded.

We reported yesterday that the NTSB had released its preliminary report  regarding a fatal Tesla crash in Delray Beach, Florida that took place on March 1. The report found that Tesla’s Autopilot “was active at the time of the crash”.

The report describes the events leading up to the incident:

As the Tesla approached the private driveway, the combination vehicle pulled from the driveway and traveled east across the southbound lanes of US 441. The truck driver was trying to cross the highway’s southbound lanes and turn left into the northbound lanes.

According to surveillance video in the area and forward-facing video from the Tesla, the combination vehicle slowed as it crossed the southbound lanes, blocking the Tesla’s path. The Tesla struck the left side of the semitrailer. The roof of the Tesla was sheared off as the vehicle underrode the semitrailer and continued south. The Tesla came to a rest on the median, about 1,600 feet from where it struck the semitrailer. The 50-year-old male Tesla driver died as a result of the crash. 

The report then goes on to note that Autopilot had been engaged 10 seconds before the collision and that the vehicle, traveling about 68 mph, didn’t execute evasive maneuvers: 

The driver engaged the Autopilot about 10 seconds before the collision. From less than 8 seconds before the crash to the time of impact, the vehicle did not detect the driver’s hands on the steering wheel. Preliminary vehicle data show that the Tesla was traveling about 68 mph when it struck the semitrailer. Neither the preliminary data nor the videos indicate that the driver or the ADAS executed evasive maneuvers.

NHTSA, it’s your move. 

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