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Tesla Autopilot stirs US alarm as 'disaster waiting to happen'

Craig Trudell and Keith Laing, Bloomberg News on

Published in Automotive News

Growing scrutiny

King was one of several acting heads of NHTSA during what has been a five-year leadership vacuum. The last Senate-confirmed administrator left the post in January 2017. A vote to permanently place Biden’s pick to run the agency, Steve Cliff, in the position is being held up indefinitely.

Impermanent leadership — along with a tight budget and modest headcount — may have prolonged Autopilot’s free ride. But a series of moves NHTSA has made over the last 10 months suggest it may not last much longer:

—In June, NHTSA ordered automakers to report crashes in which automated-driving systems are activated

—In August, NHTSA opened the defect investigation related to first-responder crash scenes

—In September, NHTSA sought documents from a dozen Tesla competitors about their automated systems


—In October, NHTSA grilled Tesla over why it neglected to do a recall when it deployed a software update to improve emergency-vehicle detection, and sought information about expanded availability of FSD

—In November, Tesla recalled a version of FSD

—In February, Tesla conducted another FSD-related recall to disable a setting that allowed vehicles to roll through stop signs, and NHTSA opened a second Autopilot defect investigation

Former safety officials are encouraged by the growing scrutiny on Autopilot, seeing it as long overdue. They are calling for NHTSA to put its recall authority to use and seek additional powers and resources from Congress that would allow it to modernize safety standards.


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