NTSB And NHTSA Get “Partial Response” To Tesla Autopilot Inquiry

Tesla Autopilot is a controversial feature, to say the least. Tesla customers and tech blogs love Autopilot’s nearly autonomous driving features. However, government safety agencies are not entirely sold on the feature being used on public roads. Both the NHTSA and the NTSB are looking for answers, but it seems that Tesla has been unresponsive.

Tesla submits partial response to NHTSA over Full Self Driving Beta

An illustration of the Tesla Autopilot semi-autonomous driving feature
Tesla Model S using Autopilot | Tesla Motors

Recently the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a request to Tesla asking the automaker why it did not file a recall for updates it performed to the Full Self Driving beta test. The request for information is also a part of the agency’s safety probe into Tesla Autopilot. The NHTSA also demanded that Tesla respond by November 1st, 2021, or face fines totaling hundreds of millions of dollars.

Threatening millions of dollars in fines has a funny way of making companies responsive, and Tesla is no exception. According to a report in Automotive News, the NHTSA released a memo stating that Tesla submitted a “partial response.”

The NHTSA added that “The company [Tesla] has requested confidential business information treatment for the entirety of the information request.” In other words, whatever information Tesla submits to the safety agency will remain confidential.

The Automotive News report suggests that the “partial response” that Telsa submitted is not related to the NHTSA’s inquiry about a recall but instead answering questions about the Tesla Autopilot feature the agency requested.

The NTSB is looking for answers too

Elon Musk standing next to a Tesla Model Y during a presentation
Elon Musk with the Tesla Model Y | Fredric J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has its own issues with Tesla, and they have no problem making that known publicly. The NTSB called out Tesla for ignoring safety reconditions regarding Tesla Autopilot that the board submitted four years ago.

Tired of being ghosted, the NTSB released a letter directed at the electric automaker stating that it was “deeply concerned” that Telsa had not responded. To be clear, the NTSB has no regulatory authority and instead relies on its influence with the government and the industry to progress its agendas. According to the report, the NTSB asked Tesla to make improvements on Autopilot back in 2017.

“If you are serious about putting safety front and center in Tesla vehicle design, I invite you to complete action on the safety recommendations we issued to you four years ago,” said NTSB Chairwoman Jennifer Homedy in the letter.

If history is any indicator, Tesla CEO Elon Musk will likely not respond well or respond at all to public call-outs. Musk once hung up on previous NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt when discussing the recommendations that Homedy referenced.

The NTSB investigated Tesla Autopilot in a Texas accident

Tesla Model S in red driving on a road toward the left side of the frame
Tesla Model S | Tesla Motors

The NTSB has been investigating a fatal accident involving a Tesla Model S in Texas on April 17th, 2021. The Model S crashed into a tree before the batteries ignited and engulfed the vehicle in flames. Local police had statements from witnesses saying that no one was in the driver’s seat of the Model S when it collided with the tree.

The statements seemingly implicated that Tesla Autopilot was at fault for the crash. However, recently the NTSB released an update to its investigation of the accident and said, according to its data, that both the driver and passenger seats were occupied at the moment of the crash.

While that update seemingly clears Autopilot of any involvement in the crash but it should be noted that a driver’s seat is supposed to be occupied with the driver’s hands on the wheel when Autopilot is engaged.

The NTSB also ensured that it had not reached any definitive conclusions about how the crash happened. As it stands, the NTSB has not entirely ruled out Autopilot but has not cleared it either.

Now might be a good time for Tesla to respond to that letter.

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