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Auto lobby calls for update to federal auto safety standards after Tesla crashes

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Two major lobby groups for the U.S. auto industry are calling for updates to federal vehicle safety regulations following high-profile accidents involving Tesla vehicles.

At a Senate subcommittee hearing on Tuesday, leaders from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation and Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association said the United States needs better standards and protocols for dealing with automated driving systems such as than those sold by Tesla under the brand names Autopilot and Full Self-Driving.

Tesla has drawn criticism for its design, testing and marketing of these systems, including its failure to prevent drivers from abusing or overestimating the capabilities of Autopilot and FSD.

Questions swirl as to whether the autopilot or the FSD was to blame in any way in the recent Tesla crashes that the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration are currently investigating. NHTSA has initiated about 28 Tesla vehicle crash investigations to date, and about 24 of them are active. The NTSB opened 8 such investigations.

Automated driving systems, also called driver assistance systems, can control certain functions of a vehicle. But automakers still require drivers to remain alert and engaged in driving, even when the systems are in use.

Typically, driver assistance relies on a mix of cameras and sensors. Some car manufacturers use advanced mapping with sensors to limit the use of their systems to certain roads.

There are no specific federal regulations or performance standards that govern automated driving systems in the United States despite their commercial availability.

“The United States is at risk of losing its competitive advantage due to a lack of clear national policies,” Ann Wilson, senior vice president of government affairs for the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, said at Tuesday’s hearing. . She later added, “NHTSA can do more and should do more.”

John Bozzella, CEO of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, said a “more strategic and robust approach” to the government’s new car rating program is needed. He also said that a modernization of the government’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS), which specify requirements for vehicle design, construction, performance and durability, should also be analyzed with respect to highly automated and autonomous vehicles.

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“We need a national strategy, a framework that results in a new kind of regulation,” he said.

The comments were made Tuesday afternoon at a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, Shipping, Freight and Ports on how automotive innovation will influence the future of vehicle safety , mobility and technology in a global economy.

It came a day after three U.S. Democratic Senators on Monday introduced legislation imposing performance standards for driver monitoring systems and requiring the installation of those systems in new vehicles.

Tesla is not a member of the Alliance for Automotive Innovation or the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association. The company did not respond to comments.

Steering wheel light bar and group icons indicate Super Cruise ™ status and will direct the driver to focus on the road ahead if the system detects that the driver’s attention has been diverted from the road for too long .

Source: General Motors

Driver monitoring

Ahead of the hearing, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation, which represents the suppliers and automakers producing nearly 99% of new cars and light trucks sold in the United States, released several safety principles related to driver oversight in vehicles equipped with driver assistance systems such as Tesla. Automatic pilot.

The directives, among others, encourage automakers to adopt camera-based driver surveillance systems for vehicles equipped with automated driving or driver assistance systems. These are designed to detect if drivers remain alert and ready to drive manually in situations where the automated program will not suffice.

General Motors, Subaru and BMW already have camera-based driver surveillance systems, and others like Ford Motor have announced similar plans. Tesla vehicles are equipped with cabin cameras, but according to the company’s owner’s manuals, these are not used for driver surveillance. Tesla’s systems require drivers to “check in” by touching the steering wheel.

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“This issue that we are discussing now – and I agree with you – is a matter of consumer awareness and confidence. This is why we have presented these principles of driver monitoring today,” said Bozzella during audience without mentioning any specific company or system. . “Monitoring drivers is an important part of this.”

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Tesla surveys

Last week, Consumer Reports revealed that a 2020 Tesla Model Y could “easily drive the car even without a person in the driver’s seat.”

The test involved rigging the Tesla’s steering wheel to bypass vehicle guards that would otherwise have disabled the autopilot. The test follows a fatal 2019 Model S crash in Texas in the spring of April, which prompted two federal investigations by the National Transportation Safety Board and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

After a preliminary investigation, a Harris County agent named Mark Herman told TV stations his investigators were “certain” that no one was in the driver’s seat of the Tesla at the time of the crash.

Thorough investigations have not been completed and authorities have not indicated whether Tesla’s autopilot or high-end automated driving system FSD was in use before or at the time of the collision. Tesla cautions in its owner’s manual that the autopilot and FSD require active supervision.

The remains of a Tesla vehicle are seen after it crashed in The Woodlands, Texas on April 17, 2021, in this still from video obtained via social media. Video taken on April 17, 2021.

Scott J. Engle | via Reuters

Tesla CEO Elon Musk said earlier this month in a tweet: “Data logs recovered so far show autopilot was not activated and this car did not purchase FSD Also, the standard autopilot would require activating the lane lines, which this street did not have. “

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In a first quarter earnings call Monday, Musk said reporters should be “ashamed” of their reporting on the crash. Tesla vice president of vehicle engineering Lars Moravy also shared additional details he said Tesla learned from participating in local and federal investigations so far.

Among other things, Moravy stated that during the incident in Spring, Texas, “the Autosteer did not and could not engage with the road conditions as they were. been designed. ” He added that the car “only accelerated to 30 miles per hour”, before crashing into a tree, and that a deformation of the steering wheel indicated to Tesla “a probability that someone was in the seat of the driver at the time of the accident “.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk unveils a new all-wheel drive version of the Model S car in Hawthorne, Calif., Oct. 9, 2014.

Lucy Nicholson | Reuters

At Tuesday’s government hearing, Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Slammed Tesla and Musk for speaking out about the crash while federal investigations are still ongoing.

“I was very disappointed that Tesla, through its CEO, took to Twitter to minimize the involvement of the company’s Advanced Driver Assistance System before the NTSB and NTHSA completed their investigation into the fatal accident, “he said.

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The NTSB told UKTN via email, “Our investigation is ongoing and we are focusing on the operation of the vehicle and the fire that followed the crash.”

The NHTSA and Spring, Texas Police were not immediately available for comment.

Blumenthal said he agreed with some auto lobbyists that federal safety standards and new regulations are needed.

He said: “The Tesla crash highlights that there are many unanswered questions regarding the technology that claims to be automated. And unfortunately, there are no current regulations to provide the public with much convenience. More automation without significantly improved consumer protection is the answer. . “


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