Twist: NHTSA Tesla Autopilot Probe Now Includes Other Automakers

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
twist nhtsa tesla autopilot probe now includes other automakers

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been doing a deep dive into Tesla’s Autopilot to determine if 765,000 vehicles from the 2014 model year onward are fit to be on the road. We’ve covered it on numerous occasions, with your author often making a plea for regulators not to harp on one company when the entire industry has been slinging advanced driving aids and distracting infotainment displays for years.

Apparently someone at the NHTSA either heard the blathering, or was at least of a similar mind, because the organization has expanded its investigation to include roughly a dozen other automakers.

On Monday, letters were issued to major manufacturers — reportedly including BMW, Honda, Toyota, and Ford Motor Co. — requesting a “comparative analysis amongst production vehicles equipped with the ability to control both steering and braking/accelerating simultaneously under some circumstances.”

Bloomberg was the first to learn of the regulatory notices and stated that they included comprehensive documentation on how driver-assistance features work for each company, as well as how they know when and if a system was engaged in the event of an accident. Since the Tesla probe originally started by investigating vehicle crashes in the presence of rescue and law-enforcement vehicles, the NHTSA also wants to know how various systems handle their presence. Automakers were asked by regulators to respond no later than November 17th, 2021.

This is probably something the Department of Transportation should have been looking into years earlier, rather than allowing the industry to implement features that debatably went onto the market unproven. Now we’re in a situation where driving aids have become the norm and regulators are just starting to get serious about looking into some of the resulting complications. But it’s difficult to say what’s right when regulations often have unintended consequences and rarely seem to take the larger picture into account.

It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where the NHTSA wants all manufacturers to network all vehicles with emergency responders to prevent future incidents where an automobile goes haywire near some flashing lights and road flares. While that would almost assuredly result in a technical violation of the Fourth Amendment, counties lacking such protections have already implemented traffic enforcement centers (e.g. China) that track networked vehicles in real time and individual automakers have data hubs on U.S. soil doing roughly the same thing.

But that’s just one possible scenario.

Regulators could just as easily attempt to establish a set of rules relating to how, when, and where these systems can be operated. A certification and testing protocol could also be implemented to ensure their effectiveness or automakers might be forbade from implementing certain functions entirely. Nobody but bureaucrats hold any love for red tape, and it’s bound to result costly recall campaigns. However doing nothing might leave millions of vehicles on the road with potentially hazardous safety and convenience packages and I haven’t the faintest idea whether that’s going to be the best or absolute worst solution to this problem. There are several issues here begging to be addressed (safety, privacy, a lack of standardization, increased costs, manufacturing complexities, etc.) but so many regulatory actions turn out to be counter productive that it makes one hesitant to endorse anything.

As pickles go, this one is taking up the whole damn jar — thanks partially to regulators dragging their feet and out-of-touch legislators having next to no idea how any of these systems worked. Rather than examining things seriously six or seven years ago and attempting to establish a competent regulatory framework that could be updated as new technologies cropped up, the government now has to play catchup and plot a course of action while it’s still learning how these systems function.

[Image: Virrage Images/Shutterstock]

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  • Mustangfast Mustangfast on Sep 14, 2021

    Maybe I’m blissfully unaware but I don’t recall hearing of anyone else’s systems having problems. I’d agree part of the semantics problem is people over rely on it based on how it is named. The other systems could be brought in to figure out why Tesla is so unique with these incidents

    • DenverMike DenverMike on Sep 14, 2021

      Other automakers (engineers) probably know the exact issue with "Autopilot", or multiple issues. And they may not want to say! I'm sure they're thinking 'screw' Tesla. And the FTC.

  • Vulpine Vulpine on Sep 16, 2021

    Honestly, there's only one reliable solution: All vehicles need the ability to communicate with each other to signal where they are and what they're doing. Add to this an ability to communicate directly with city traffic management computers and you could effectively eliminate the vast majority of traffic jams and incidents due to outside influences such as crashes, construction, power outages, etc. Give emergency vehicles a priority signal and many of these 'roadside incidents' would be completely eliminated.

    • Mcs Mcs on Sep 16, 2021

      @vulpine: You're right. We have ADS-B in aviation. It would be great to have something similar in vehicles. Even expand it to cell phones, pet collars, and tags/wristbands for kids. Not a perfect system, but much better than nothing.

  • Tassos And all 3 were ordered by Fisker's mother. Seriously, given Fisker's terrible record of Failure in the past, only an utter loser, (for example, VGhost or Art Vandelay?), looking for a BEV terrible enough to be a proper replacement of his 11 mile range Fiat 500E, would order one of these. (apart from Fisker's mother)
  • Tassos And all 3 of them were ordered by Fisker's mother.Seriously, after Fisker's DISMAL record of UTTER FAILURE in the past, only a GOD DAMNED MORON would order this one.
  • RHD Any truth to the unconfirmed rumor that the new, larger model will be called the bZ6X? We could surmise that with a generous back seat it certainly should be!
  • Damon Thomas Adding to the POSITIVES... It's a pretty fun car to mod
  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.