Tesla shouldn’t call its self-driving system Autopilot: U.S. transportation secretary

“I don’t think something should be called autopilot, for example, when the fine print says you need to keep your hands on the wheel and your eyes on the road at all times,” Buttigieg told The Associated Press.

Since 2016, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an agency within Buttigieg’s department, has dispatched investigative teams to more than 30 crashes in which a Tesla allegedly using Autopilot or its more sophisticated automated Full Self-Driving system hit a Pedestrians, motorcyclists, semi-trailers and parked emergency vehicles were seen.

The investigations are part of a larger National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) probe into multiple Teslas using Autopilot to hit parked emergency vehicles that were dealing with other accidents. Over the past year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has more aggressively pursued Tesla safety concerns, announcing multiple recalls and investigations.

Austin, Texas-based Tesla did not immediately respond to a message left Thursday by The Associated Press seeking comment.

Autopilot keeps the car in its lane and away from the vehicle ahead, while Full Self-Driving does most of the driving. But in each case, Tesla told owners they had to be ready to intervene.

Buttigieg said the DOT would hold Tesla, or any other company, accountable for complying with federal safety standards. “We call it ball and strike,” he said. “I think it’s a very objective, very important thing. But anytime a company does something wrong or a vehicle needs to be recalled or is not designed to be safe, we’ll be there.”

In an interview Wednesday, Buttigieg said self-driving cars have enormous potential to reduce the nearly 40,000 annual road deaths in the U.S., a level he believes is unacceptable. But he said the technology has yet to be proven. “It’s far from automatically fulfilling that potential,” he said. “That’s what we’re trying to shape here at the Department of Transportation.”

NHTSA is also eyeing Tesla’s Full Self-Driving system. In February, the agency pressured Tesla to recall nearly 363,000 vehicles equipped with the software because the system could violate traffic laws. This issue will be resolved through an online software update.

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has said he expects to have fully self-driving cars available this year, a promise he has made for years. “The trend is very clearly toward full self-driving,” Musk said in April. “I’m hesitant to say that, but I think we’ll do it this year.”

As many as 400,000 Tesla owners are testing the system on public roads. But NHTSA said in the document that the system could engage in unsafe behavior, such as going straight through an intersection from a turn-only lane, passing a yellow traffic light without proper warning, or Failure to respond to speed limit changes.

NHTSA has also opened investigations into Tesla’s unprovoked sudden braking, suspension problems and other issues over the past three years.

Buttigieg would not comment specifically on the pending investigation. “External agencies on the marketing side, states and other regulatory entities, and us from a vehicle safety standpoint, have been watching,” he said.

He stressed that no vehicle sold today can drive itself, and said drivers must pay attention in all situations.

The Justice Department also asked Tesla for documents related to Full Self-Driving and Autopilot.

Buttigieg also touted the Biden administration’s efforts to electrify the nation’s vehicles.

“The most important thing is that the car industry is going electric and we want it to happen as soon as possible to help us meet our climate goals,” he said. “We want it to happen on American soil so we can get these American jobs, and we want it to happen in a fair way so everyone can benefit from it.”

Senator Joe Manchin, DW.Va., criticized the administration for lax enforcement of rules requiring EV batteries to be produced in North America.

Buttigieg acknowledged that there was “some real disagreement” on how to implement the tax provisions in the Lower Inflation Act, but said that thousands of dollars in tax credits would be taken off the purchase price of electric vehicles and the network of charging stations to accommodate New electric vehicles are vital to millions of people.

“The president has set a goal of having 500,000 chargers by the end of the decade. I think we can meet or beat that goal, but it will take a lot of work,” he said, pointing to the climate law and the 2021 Infrastructure Act for chargers and Additional benefits will flow to each state. “The red states, the blue states, the purple states are all coming back with plans to use those dollars, and they’re all pushing it now. So I think we can be successful in this electric vehicle revolution.”

He noted that he was the former mayor of South Bend, Indiana, which was once home to the Studebaker Motor Company that collapsed in the 1960s.

“I know how important it is that we win this time, and that America is leading the world in this revolution, which is going to happen very positively in one way or another,” he said.

First published date: May 12, 2023 at 08:46 AM CST


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