The National Transportation Safety Board’s (NTSB) Chairwoman Jennifer Homendy says that recent attacks against Missy Cummings, a recently appointed Senior Advisor for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), were used by Tesla fans to distract people from “the real safety issues at hand,” hinting toward her criticism of Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving suite.
Earlier this month, Cummings, a Professor and Director of the Human’s and Autonomy Laboratory at Duke University, was appointed by the Biden Administration to act as the new Senior Advisor of the NHTSA. Tesla enthusiasts and fans questioned the appointment, citing Cummings past criticisms of Tesla Autopilot and Full Self-Driving. Tesla CEO Elon Musk said Cummings has had a past of being “extremely biased against Tesla.” Cummings, at one time, said the “only killer robot out there is @elonmusk’s Tesla” in a Tweet from April 2018. Cummings also owned nearly 26,000 shares of Veoneer stock, a LiDAR company. Cummings was a member of the Board of Veoneer but resigned on October 25.
Tesla has never believed in LiDAR, with Musk once calling it “a fool’s errand.”
The Tweets and focus on Cummings from Tesla fans caused Cummings to delete her Twitter account. A petition also circulated through the community, accumulating over 28,000 signatures. The petition called for Cummings appointment to be reconsidered due to “conflict of interest and bias,” based on her past Tweets and stock ownership in Veoneer.
Homendy commented on the criticism of Cummings, stating Tesla fans were using it as a distraction from the company’s safety issues, which have catalyzed a probe from the NHTSA.
Homendy said (via CNN Business):
“It’s a calculated attempt to distract from the real safety issues at hand that everybody should be focused on. It’s noise. Put it aside.”
She added that fans of other automakers do not respond to criticism this way. “You would never get that in other [transportation] modes. That would just not happen,” Homendy added. “We’ve issued recommendations to other auto manufacturers and don’t get that response. NHTSA issues regulations across the auto industry, and they also do not get that response. I refuse to go down the path of even reading, acknowledging, or responding to any criticism because I feel like it’s really the safety issues at hand we need to be talking about.”
Tesla fans undoubtedly had a right to be concerned regarding Cummings’ appointment based on private interests and past comments made about Tesla, but some comments made to her were over the line. Members of the Full Self-Driving Beta pool were not enthusiastic regarding Cummings appointment but were also not supportive of name-calling and mud-slinging in her direction.
Tesla’s most recent Safety Report shows that its vehicles were involved in an accident once every 4.41 million miles drive while drivers utilized Autopilot technology. “By comparison, NHTSA’s most recent data shows that in the United States there is an automobile crash every 484,000 miles,” the company writes.
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