NTSB cites Tesla to make the case for stricter autonomous driving regulation

The agency says the automaker has been testing unfinished driver-assist tech on public roads.


The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) is calling on its sister agency to implement stricter regulation related to automated vehicle technology. In a letter it sent to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at the start of February (via CNBC), the NTSB says the regulator “must act” to “develop a strong safety foundation.” What’s notable about the document is that NTSB chair Robert Sumwalt frequently cites Tesla in a negative light to support his department’s suggestions. The automaker is referenced 16 times across the letter’s 15 pages.

For instance, in one section, Sumwalt writes of NHTSA’s “continued failure” to implement regulations that would prevent driver-assist systems like Autopilot from operating beyond their intended use. “Because NHTSA has put in place no requirements, manufacturers can operate and test vehicles virtually anywhere, even if the location exceeds the AV control system’s limitations,” Sumwalt writes. “For example, Tesla recently released a beta version of its Level 2 Autopilot system, described as having full self-driving capability. By releasing the system, Tesla is testing on public roads a highly automated AV technology but with limited oversight or reporting requirements.”

This is not the first time the NTSB has criticized both Tesla and its sister agency. When it held a hearing last year on the deadly 2018 crash that killed Apple developer Walter Haung, Sumwalt expressed frustration with both the NHTSA and Tesla. “Government regulators have provided scant oversight,” he said of the former while blasting the automaker for not responding to its recommendations. But there’s little the agency can do beyond issuing recommendations. As part of its role in investigating traffic accidents, it does not have the authority to regulate or even enforce any of the safety measures it suggests. That responsibility falls to the NHTSA. Under the Trump administration, the agency has mostly let state regulators decide how to approach the question of automated vehicle technologies.

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