The NHTSA is not happy with Tesla's cowboy approach to safety.
Tesla reported its first-quarter earnings last week, and the EV maker is doing better than ever before. However, the celebrations are short-lived as the NHTSA has formally opened two investigations into Tesla crashes. And no, it's not the crash involving the private jet and the Model Y.
Unlike the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has been on Tesla's case for years, the NHTSA is not a toothless dog. It has the power to force change, and in a worst-case scenario for Tesla, it could see them remove Autopilot or retrofit technology that would put limitations on its use. It already flexed its muscles earlier this month.
A clampdown on Tesla's semi-autonomous technology could have far-reaching consequences. Any ban implemented by the NHTSA could directly impact Tesla's seemingly untouchable stock price. It would also serve as a stern warning to other manufacturers working on hands-free operation. It could force both Ford and GM to rethink their new hands-free technology.
Both GM and Ford have safeguards in place, which the NTSB initially recommended. Tesla chose to ignore these recommendations and has been criticized for using its owners to test the Beta version of Full Self-Driving. A current senate campaign is entirely based on lambasting Tesla's Self-Driving.
"We essentially have the Wild West on our roads right now," Jennifer Homendy, the chair of the NTSB, in an interview with Bloomberg. She's apprehensive about Autopilot and Full Self-Driving, calling them artificial intelligence experiments being used by untrained operators. "It is a disaster waiting to happen."
From his side, Elon Musk has hardly been a model of professional compliance. In true Musk style, he referred to the NHTSA as the "fun police."
Some of us in the office are fans of Musk's disruptive ways, but calling the NHTSA the fun police is like tickling a Bear's rear-end with a feather.
Musk has also been open about the favorable regulatory processes in the US, saying that things in the US are legal by default and that it's the other way around in Europe.
The NHTSA has constantly reminded the public that no vehicle can drive itself, but this has not kept Tesla owners from posting videos on YouTube. The NHTSA has opened 31 investigations into crashes involving some sort of autonomous driving, and Tesla is involved in 24 of these cases.
In Tesla's defense, it does have a disclaimer on its website, located in the section where you add Full Self-Driving as an option.
"The currently enabled features require active driver supervision and do not make the vehicle autonomous. The activation and use of these features are dependent on achieving reliability far in excess of human drivers as demonstrated by billions of miles of experience, as well as regulatory approval, which may take longer in some jurisdictions," reads the statement.
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