U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg recently reiterated to reporters that Tesla shouldn’t be calling its advanced driver assistance system Autopilot because it doesn’t pilot vehicles automatically. If only someone could do something about that.
It’s something the Germans and other European countries have recognized for years (in Germany Autopilot is called Autodrive for this very reason). Buttigieg spoke with the Associated Press and reiterated that no self driving cars exist on the market today, including Teslas, which use level 2 driving — the worst level for human attention spans:
“I don’t think that something should be called, for example, an Autopilot, when the fine print says you need to have your hands on the wheel and eyes on the road at all times,” Buttigieg said in an interview with The Associated Press
Buttigieg said the Transportation Department will hold Tesla or any other company accountable for complying with federal safety standards. “We call balls and strikes,” he said. “I view it as something where it’s very important to be very objective. But anytime a company does something wrong or a vehicle needs to be recalled or a design isn’t safe, we’re going to be there.”
Holding Tesla responsible has been on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s to-do list since 2015, when Teslas began to boom in popularity in large part due to Autopilot. While NHTSA was busy for four years having its already dull fangs further blunted by the Trump Administration, it still investigated over 30 crashes involving Autopilot or Tesla’s seemingly more advanced software, Full Self Driving Beta. NHTSA believes it can connect at least 14 deaths to the software. Autopilot and FSD are suspected in striking everything from pedestrians to parked emergency vehicles.
Teslas have been stuck at level 2 autonomy since the software rolled out in 2014, despite CEO Elon Musk promising full-self driving cars for the last ten years. He promised it by the end of this year as well, but considering Musk is facing legal and regulatory challenges over the software from NHTSA, the National Transportation Safety Board, the Department of Justice, the California Department of Motor Vehicles and lawsuits from everyone from stockholders to the families of people killed in or by one of his cars, all over Autopilot, I wouldn’t hold my breath.
In the meantime, companies that did not have Tesla’s head start is ADAS, like Mercedes and Audi, have already achieved a very limited form of level 3 autonomy which does allow the driver to let go of the wheel, with plans to sell these vehicles in Nevada later this year.