Tesla isn’t about to get a sympathetic ear from US regulators as it rolls out more semi-autonomous technology. New National Transportation Safety Board head Jennifer Homendy told The Wall Street Journal in an interview that Tesla needs to tackle “basic safety issues” before it expands features like Autopilot and Full Self Driving to more parts of the road. She also wasn’t thrilled with Tesla beta-testing upgrades on public streets.
Like other critics, the NTSB leader took issue with Tesla’s naming schemes for its driver assists. The Full Self Driving label is “misleading and irresponsible,” Homendy said, leading some to “misuse and abuse” it. Despite its name, the current FSD package only enables limited autonomy in some situations, and requires drivers to be ready to take the wheel at any moment. Tesla ultimately hopes for true autonomy to enable robotaxis and other hands-off uses, but hasn’t yet demonstrated such a system.
Tesla and its chief Elon Musk have long argued that Autopilot (and by extension FSD) is overall safer than full manual control despite concerns over crashes where the technology was involved. The automaker has used FSD betas as a way to improve semi-autonomous features through real-world use, not just the ideal conditions of a closed circuit.
Homendy’s remarks won’t necessarily lead to policies meant to limit or ban Tesla’s technology. However, it does set the tone for the NTSB’s approach to Tesla during the Biden administration. The agency might not be receptive to Tesla’s autonomous driving strategy, particularly if there’s an increase in collisions.
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