Driverless Vehicles and a New NHTSA

Driverless Vehicles Under a New Administration

Tesla is fast-tracking driverless vehicles.  Many in the vehicle safety field are concerned that there has been a lack of federal oversight during this push.  Some of the words and phrases that have been used to describe the influence of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) over the past four years include:

  • Dormant
  • Inactive
  • Without Direction

This is no doubt partly due to the fact that the safety agency did not have a Senate-confirmed administrator during the entire Trump term.  Deputies were left in charge.  While several safety investigations into autonomous driving vehicles were begun, they were left incomplete.  The new administration is said to be facing a huge backlog.

Clear Regulations Sought

Autonomous driving, led by Tesla, is quickly emerging.  It presents the largest new challenge to regulators of automobile safety in decades. Even manufacturers of autonomous vehicles have remarked that they need more clarity – clear federal rules and guidelines, to override the potpourri of various state laws.  

While other manufacturers of driverless vehicles are taking it slow and testing with professional drivers, Tesla has begun beta testing its autonomous technology with regular customers on public roads.  Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, recently said that by the end of this year, Tesla vehicles will be fully driving themselves on public roads without human intervention.  

Safety advocates are appalled by Tesla’s approach, which amounts to putting the technology in the hands of the customer to find out if it works or not.  This is frightening when the product in question is a vehicle traveling 60+ mph on our highways.  

Predictable Abuse

One major concern over the Tesla autonomous technology is its ability to be hacked.  The Obama administration labeled this vulnerability as a defect.  Over the last four years, there have been a host of viral videos documenting how simply the Tesla systems can be spoofed, however, the NTHSA under Trump did nothing to address the issue.  In fact, when a fatal crash occurred in Mountain View, California, in 2018, a totally different federal agency, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has no regulatory authority, criticized the NHTSA for its inaction.  The chairman of the NTSB stated that autopilot systems have had “scant oversight” from government regulators.

Watch the YouTube video below – one of many such videos documenting how Tesla’s autopilot technology can be fooled.

NHTSA Needs an Update

Expanding the data about car crashes and providing more access to that data would assist NHTSA and other safety advocates, the courts, law enforcement, and the public in better understanding the risks versus rewards of vehicles driven partly by people, partly by computers. However, data collection on crashes and fatalities by the NHTSA has not evolved much since the 70s.  Their methods are based on collecting reports from thousands of law enforcement departments, many of which are still paper-based.  The agency’s system is so outdated that 2019’s finalized report on fatalities and injuries will not be available until late this year.

Will the New Administration React?

Now that the Biden administration is in charge, it remains to be seen whether NHTSA will bulk up its guidelines and enforcement with regard to regulation of autonomous vehicles.

Sacramento Auto Accident Injury Attorneys

Hello, and thank you for reading.  My name is Ed Smith, and I have been a Sacramento auto accident injury attorney who has been advocating on behalf of injured Northern Californians for more than 38 years.  We are hopeful that as driving technology develops, the number of injuries and fatalities that occur on our roadways every year will decrease.  The dream is to eliminate such occurrences.  We are still a long way from that ideal.  Every day in the Sacramento region, people are injured due to the actions of negligent drivers.  If you have found yourself in this unfortunate situation, our injury lawyers are available to provide free and friendly legal advice.  Reach out to us online, or phone us at (916) 921-6400 or (800) 404-5400.

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