Tesla welcomes NHTSA’s critical eye on Autopilot, FSD: “We expect and embrace the scrutiny”

Credit: Tesla

Tesla executives highlighted during the recently held Q3 2021 earnings call that the company welcomes scrutiny from agencies such as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). This was despite the incoming appointment of a new NHTSA senior safety adviser who previously dubbed Teslas as “killer robot(s)” on social media, and who sits at the board of Swedish LIDAR company Veoneer, a supplier of automakers like Ford and General Motors.

The NHTSA is currently probing Tesla over incidents where its cars ended up crashing into stationary emergency vehicles while Autopilot was engaged. The company has since rolled out some safety improvements for Autopilot, such as the ability to slow down and alert the driver when an emergency vehicle is detected. This, however, was met by a rather negative response from the NHTSA, which asked the EV maker why it did not issue a recall notice when it released Autopilot’s free over-the-air software update. 

Considering the current atmosphere surrounding Tesla and the NHTSA, it was no surprise that investors inquired about the tense environment on the Q3 2021 earnings call. When asked how the company plans to deal with what appears to be increasing scrutiny from the safety agency, Tesla Vice President of Vehicle Engineering Lars Moravy was firm in the notion that the EV maker will be fully cooperative. He also noted that Tesla expects and welcomes scrutiny on its products like Autopilot and FSD. 

“As we have been for years, we always engage with NHTSA and other worldwide regulatory bodies to share our knowledge and to work with them on our approaches on both active and passive safety. There are ongoing regulatory inquiries taking place all the time and especially on the subjects like FSD that are at the cutting edge of technology development.

“During these investigations, my team, myself are always cooperative as much as possible. We expect and embrace the scrutiny of these products and know that the truth about their performance and the innovations our products have will ultimately be all that matters. In the end and as I’ve said on previous calls, we take safety as a top priority in all our designs. This is because our primary motivation is from — coming from a team of incredible engineers designing software and hardware that saves lives and prevents injuries,” Moravy confirmed

Tesla Chief Financial Officer Zachary Kirkhorn added that safety is paramount for the company. He noted that while the scrutiny will indeed be notable, Tesla is still excited to partner and work collaboratively with agencies like the NHTSA. This was because ultimately, making vehicles as safe as possible is the right thing to do

“Safety is extremely important for Tesla. It’s the right thing to do. And, you know, if you look at various independent testing and regulatory testing of our products, you can see the work of incredibly talented engineers in the results of those tests. And, you know, our goal in developing safety-oriented software around the car is to continue to go beyond what the hardware is able to provide.

“If you can prevent a crash from happening, that’s the safest way to manage this. And I think at a macro level here, what we’re seeing — and this is entirely understandable and expected, is that the automotive industry is going through a transition from the traditional car as we know it to more of a computer, software-oriented, sensor suites around them that can manage things beyond just what the driver manages. And regulatory bodies are — understandably so, are interested in understanding how to regulate in this environment, and NHTSA is no exception to that. 

“We’re excited to partner and we’ll work collaboratively with all regulatory bodies who want — to go on the journey to the transition to a software-oriented vehicle,” Kirkhorn concluded. 

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Simon Alvarez: Simon is a reporter with a passion for electric cars and clean energy. Fascinated by the world envisioned by Elon Musk, he hopes to make it to Mars (at least as a tourist) someday.
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