Tuesday, August 17, 2021

“Teslas are running into stationary objects. They shouldn’t be.”

One of the keys to the success of Elon Musk has been his ability to work the regulators, bullying, playing the martyr, suggesting (directly or through proxies) that agencies like the SEC, the FAA, OSHA, the NHTSA et al. hate progress and are trying to stop him from saving the world (you think I’m exaggerating, but I’m not).

The tactics had been extraordinarily successful, perhaps in part due to the Trump administration’s lax attitudes toward regulation. It’s possible that the election made some kind of reckoning inevitable, particularly given the news about battery fires (not just a Tesla problem) and the misrepresentation of the “Full Self-Driving” option (very much a Tesla problem).

Russ Mitchell writing for the LA Times

In theory, identifying and avoiding stationary objects set off by hazard cones or flashing lights ought to be one of the easiest challenges for any autonomous-driving or driver-assist system.

Yet at least 11 times over the past seven years, cars made by Tesla Inc. and running its software have failed this test, slamming into emergency vehicles that were parked on roads and highways. Now the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration wants to know why.

A federal investigation announced Monday involves Tesla cars built between 2014 and 2021, including models S, X, 3 and Y. If the probe results in a recall, as many as 765,000 vehicles could be affected.

The 11 crashes at issue resulted in 17 injuries and one death. Three took place in Southern California.

The new investigation indicates that the safety agency, under President Biden and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, is paying more attention to automated driving safety than the more laissez-faire Trump administration. In June, NHTSA ordered automobile manufactures, including Tesla, to forward data on crashes involving automated systems to the agency.

It’s about time, said Alain Kornhauser, director of the self-driving car program at Princeton University. “Teslas are running into stationary objects,” he said. “They shouldn’t be.”

Tesla is also under review by the California Department of Motor Vehicles for its marketing of “Full Self-Driving” technology. That’s a significant enhancement to Autopilot that allows the car to be driven on city streets, with the claimed ability to handle traffic signals and make turns at intersections. The feature costs $10,000, which includes future enhancements, but Tesla has noted that its Full Self-Driving does not make the car self-driving. DMV regulations prevent auto manufacturers from making false claims about automated driving capabilities.

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