The chairman of the National Transportation Safety Board wrote a 14-page letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, requesting much stricter guidelines for both ADAS and self-driving car development and testing on public roads. A recent product release by Tesla may bring more danger than knowledge to public roads, the letter implies if not asserts.
Tesla’s latest Autopilot mode, dubbed “Full Self-Driving” (FSD), is definitely not autonomous driving. But the company has nonetheless encouraged its customers to try it out autonomously, in effect, by testing it themselves on public roads. FSD beta is not FSD but an advanced driver-assistance system (ADAS). Now government regulators have raised an alarm about the company’s aggressive marketing.
Robert Sumwalt, chair of the NTSB, wrote that Tesla’s self-promoted on-road testing by its customers has “limited oversight or reporting requirements,” and that “NHTSA’s hands-off approach to oversight of AV testing poses a potential risk to motorists and other road users.”
Sumwalt invokes the Tesla name 16 times in the letter and cites two recent fatal crashes that it attributes to “Tesla’s lack of appropriate safeguards and NHTSA’s inaction.”
While NHTSA is responsible for vechicle testing recalls and setting safety standards, NTSB is responsible for investigating vehicle crashes, looking for their underlying cause, and making recommendations to the government and the auto industry based on its findings. The Sumwalt letter commendably attempts to get out ahead of the curve on crash prevention.
“The NTSB remains concerned about NHTSA’s continued failure to recognize the importance of ensuring that acceptable safeguards are in place so that vehicles do not operate outside their ODDs and beyond the capabilities of their system designs.”
He further called out the fellow agency for “refuse[ing] to take action for vehicles termed as having partial, or lower level, automation, and continu[ing] to wait for higher levels of automation before requiring that AV systems meet minimum national standards.
“The NTSB concluded that NHTSA’s failure to ensure that vehicle manufacturers of SAE Level 2 driving automation systems incorporate appropriate system safeguards to limit operation of these systems to the ODD compromises safety.”