Autopilot suspected as the culprit in 10 deaths since 2016.
Self-driving vehicles are facing serious scrutiny this week. A recent bid to lift the strict legislation under which these cars function was rejected, and, a day later, the US Auto Safety Regulators announced 30 investigations into Tesla crashes. A total of ten people were killed in said crashes.
The National Highway Traffic Safety (NHTSA) already has a list of Tesla crashes currently under the magnifying glass of its Special Crash Investigations. The NHTSA does an initial investigation, after which it's decided whether to pass it on to the Special Crash Investigations. A recent Model 3 crash was not handed over, for example.
Out of the 30 investigations, the NHTSA has only released final rulings on five crashes. Tesla Autopilot was ruled out as the cause of the accident in three cases, while the NHTSA published reports on two incidents.
Autopilot has been controversial since the start, even though it's no more than a Level 2 driver assistance system. Tesla's website clearly states that "the currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous." The main source of contention seems to be that even though Tesla states it's not a fully self-driving system, it calls it exactly that. It also doesn't help that it keeps on making the news after owners do extremely irresponsible things. In August 2020, a Tesla driver crashed into the back of a cop car while watching a movie.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) takes a much fiercer stance against Tesla. According to the NTSB, Autopilot was engaged in at least three fatal accidents since 2016. This body is particularly critical of Autopilot and the fact that it allows drivers to remove their hands from the steering wheel for long periods of time.
Rather concerning, the NHTSA's list of investigations includes eight new inclusions since March. This issue was highlighted again after a now-infamous crash in Texas in May 2020. The NTSB's preliminary report indicated that Autopilot was not switched on, even though the police initially reported that nobody was behind the wheel at the time of the crash.
These crashes are also the reason why the Senate Commerce Committee voted against giving self-driving cars more leeway. The chair of the committee, Maria Cantwell, mentioned Tesla's Autopilot specifically. "It seems like every other week we're hearing about a new vehicle that crashed when it was on Autopilot," Cantwell said.