NHTSA to More Closely Scrutinize Tesla’s Autopilot Feature nytimes.com

After writing about my CarPlay concerns, I had intended to link to this new report yesterday by Cade Metz at the New York Times as a sort of companion:

Autopilot has been on public roads since 2015. General Motors introduced Super Cruise in 2017, and Ford Motor brought out BlueCruise last year. But publicly available data that reliably measures the safety of these technologies is scant. American drivers — whether using these systems or sharing the road with them — are effectively guinea pigs in an experiment whose results have not yet been revealed.


A year ago, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the government’s auto safety regulator, ordered companies to report potentially serious crashes involving advanced driver-assistance systems along the lines of Autopilot within a day of learning about them. The order said the agency would make the reports public, but it has not yet done so.

The safety agency declined to comment on what information it had collected so far but said in a statement that the data would be released “in the near future.”

I got distracted and forgot all about this link, which actually worked out for the best, because Neal E. Boudette reports today for the Times about some developments in the NHTSA’s investigation of Tesla specifically:

The agency, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, said Thursday that it was upgrading its preliminary evaluation of Autopilot to an engineering analysis, a more intensive level of scrutiny that is required before a recall can be ordered.

The analysis will look at whether Autopilot fails to prevent drivers from diverting their attention from the road and engaging in other predictable and risky behavior while using the system.

This sounds like it is limited in scope to understanding if Autopilot should be doing more to prevent owners from treating the system as anything more than a driver assist feature with a misleading name. That is a good start. But I have to wonder how much of drivers’ overconfidence in the system is reflective of the company’s marketing rather than the more subdued way it is presented in the car. It is hard to roll back Elon Musk’s claims that fully autonomous transportation is one to two years out every year for the past decade. I am not even sure it matters whether people believe him. Hearing that repeated time and time again by often sycophantic media outlets must seep into the public consciousness.