Electric car company Tesla is promising a big upgrade to its so-called “self-driving” features in the very near future, but U.S. government regulators are not impressed. In fact, the new head of the National Traffic Safety Board thinks Tesla’s marketing is “misleading and irresponsible,” according to an interview she gave to the Wall Street Journal.
“Basic safety issues have to be addressed before they’re then expanding it to other city streets and other areas,” Jennifer Homendy, who became the head of the NTSB just last month, told the WSJ on Sunday.
Tesla’s calls its driver assistance technology “Full Self-Driving Capability,” which the average person might reasonably expect to mean that Tesla cars with that feature, are fully autonomous. But Tesla’s cars are far from fully autonomous and are being beta tested by amateurs on the road every single day.
From the Journal:
Ms. Homendy called Tesla’s use of the term Full Self-Driving “misleading and irresponsible,” adding that people pay more attention to marketing than to warnings in car manuals or on a company’s website. In Tesla’s case, she said, “It has clearly misled numerous people to misuse and abuse technology.”
Tesla’s new city-driving tool is part of its Full Self-Driving package. Tesla sells the suite for $US10,000 ($13,735) or a monthly subscription that costs up to $US199 ($273). Other features in the Full Self-Driving bundle are already publicly available, including tools that help vehicles change lanes on the highway and slow down at stop signs. New Street Research estimated in July that roughly 360,000 people had purchased the Full Self-Driving system, covering about one-fifth of the Tesla fleet at the time.
Strangely, Tesla insists that people who own cars with “Full Self-Driving Capability” know that the cars can’t actually drive themselves. But Tesla seems to be giving humans a lot more credit than they deserve, as countless online videos can attest.
YouTube and Twitter are filled with videos of people testing Tesla’s self-driving feature, and many of them are really horrifying. One recent video, which shows a Tesla trying to swerve into a bunch of pedestrians before the human driver takes control, was taken down due to a copyright request. But the video has been re-uploaded by other users.
While the NTSB investigates crashes, the government agency doesn’t actually have any power to enforce existing regulations around automobile safety. In fact, it’s pretty shocking just how toothless so many federal safety agencies really turn out to be when you look into it.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla who sometimes pretends he’s the founder of the company, even calls his urban driver assistance tech a “beta” test, leading one to wonder why a car company would be allowed to trial such a dangerous technology on American roads without appropriate safeguards.
The big lesson of the 2010s seems to be best encapsulated in the business strategy of Uber: Don’t ask permission, ask forgiveness. You can get away with a lot if you just ignore existing regulations and grow as quickly as possible. And in the case of Musk, you don’t even ask forgiveness. He is, after all, the second wealthiest person in the world, and paid $0 in U.S. federal income taxes in 2018. Musk can afford whatever fines get thrown his way for breaking the law.