Former presidential candidate and long-time auto safety advocate Ralph Nader has joined the growing list of critics of Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) technology.
The 88-year-old Nader just issued a harshly worded condemnation of FSD, calling its release “one of the most dangerous and irresponsible actions by a car company in decades.” Nader’s attack comes as federal regulators move forward with a series of probes looking into potential problems with both the Full Self-Driving and less advanced Autopilot technologies. But Nader said it’s time for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to act.
“I am calling on federal regulators to act immediately to prevent the growing deaths and injuries from Tesla manslaughtering crashes with this technology,” the 88-year-old Nader said in a statement released through the Center for Automotive Safety.
“NHTSA,” he added, “must use its safety recall authority to order that the FSD technology be removed in every Tesla.”
Crash & Death Toll Rises
There have now been at least 16 deaths connected to Tesla’s semi-autonomous technology. In at least two of the crashes, NHTSA and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have found Tesla bearing some responsibility.
Meanwhile, NHTSA’s Special Crash Investigation Unit is looking into 48 incidents involving Tesla’s systems. Among the concerns: a series of instances where Tesla vehicles unexpectedly crashed into stationary emergency vehicles.
Among the recent crashes being probed by the feds occurred on July 6 in Alachua Country, Fla., when a Tesla vehicle suddenly swerved off the highway, smashing into a parked tractor-trailer. The 66-year-old driver and a 67-year-old passenger were killed. It has not yet been formally determined if the vehicle was operating on Autopilot at the time, although it’s suspected the system was active before the crash.
NHTSA has since dispatched investigators to look into two other crashes last month, which saw two motorcyclists killed after being struck by Tesla vehicles believed to be running on Autopilot.
In his statement, Nader cited what he described as research on the FSD system showing “malfunctions every eight minutes.” He said NHTSA can no longer drag its feet.
“The Wrong Thing at the Worst Time”
“This nation should not allow this malfunctioning software which Tesla itself warns may do the ‘wrong thing at the worst time’ on the same streets where children walk to school,” Nader said in the statement released Wednesday.
“Together we need to send an urgent message to the casualty-minded regulators that Americans must not be test dummies for a powerful, high-profile corporation and its celebrity CEO. No one is above the laws of manslaughter.”
In recent weeks, there has been widespread speculation that regulators might order a recall for as many as 800,000 Teslas equipped with semi-autonomous driving technology. One possibility is that the automaker could be forced to limit the capabilities of such technology. There also could be a requirement to retrofit a driver monitoring system.
General Motors and Ford use facial recognition systems to ensure that drivers remain attentive and ready to take over in an emergency when their hands-free systems — Super Cruise and BlueCruise, respectively — are operating. Until recently, Tesla eschewed such monitoring. Critics say that has only encouraged misuse.
Social media sites are filled with videos of drivers falling asleep, even jumping into the back seat while Autopilot and FSD are operating.
NHTSA’s New Chief
Whether federal regulators will take any action on Autopilot or FSD is uncertain, though the agency’s new Administrator, Steven Cliff, appears to be taking a more aggressive stand on ensuring the safety of semi- and fully autonomous technology, in general. He told the Associated Press in June that NHTSA needs to move forward on implementing new regulations covering such technology.
“Any time we put a regulation on the books, we have to define not only what standard that technology needs to be held to, but we need to have an objective way to measure the performance of the system to ensure that it actually complies with the regulation,” Cliff said.
GearJunkie has reached out to Tesla for comment on Nader’s accusations. The automaker has not yet responded and rarely does since disbanding its media communications department. Most criticism is today dealt with directly by CEO Elon Musk, a frequent user of Twitter.
Musk Sees Big Bucks From FSD
Musk has frequently scoffed at criticism of Tesla’s semi-autonomous technology and, if anything, has repeatedly promised to have a more advanced hands-free version of FSD available by the end of 2022. It should be noted, however, that he laid out similar expectations a number of times in recent years, only to have the automaker’s development team run into delays.
Musk’s desire to get a more advanced FSD out on the market reflects his belief in the financial opportunity it presents. FSD, in particular, already costs $12,000. But Musk has called that “ridiculously low,” and also indicated the next-gen technology will become one of Tesla’s biggest profit centers.
NHTSA isn’t the only government agency scrutinizing Autopilot and FSD. But, the California Department of Motor Vehicles (CDMV) is focusing on the way Tesla markets those systems. There is concern that the automaker exaggerates its capabilities, pointing to claims that the systems are “designed to be able to conduct short and long-distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat.”
The automaker could face significant fines if the CDMV rules against it — though the agency could also ban Tesla from marketing vehicles in the state, the largest U.S. market for battery-electric vehicles.