"The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) concluded a months-long investigation of a fatal crash in Florida last May, and reported Thursday that the agency found no defects in Tesla’s Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) and Autopilot systems.
Definitely, Tesla is exonerated.
Did NHTSA let Tesla off the hook too easily? Absolutely. What lessons or guidance, if any, did NHTSA’s findings offer to the rest of the automotive industry? Very little.
It’s important to point out that nobody is saying that NHTSA didn’t do a thorough investigation. It did. NHTSA’s report, however, exposed limitations in the scope of their probe. The investigation revealed the difficulties regulators face in dealing with highly software-dependent automated driving systems.
Further, problematic was the tardiness of the investigation. Tesla was able to move much faster than the regulator to fix some of the problems (if not all of them) via over the air (OTA) software updates. That’s a good thing, but it rendered the NHTSA probe less than remarkable.
After reading the report, Mike Demler, senior analyst at The Linley Group, complained that NHTSA “largely just matched up the parameters of the incident with the information Tesla provides in owner’s manuals, along with cockpit warnings.”
NHTSA calls the report issued Thursday “ODI (Office of Defects Investigation) Resume.” A defect is an imperfection, or a weakness, noted Demler. But in his opinion, he sees little evidence that government agency actually focused on the weaknesses within Tesla’s Model S at the time of the accident.
“The critical issue here is that the Tesla fatality involved the combination of AEB and Autopilot,” said Demler. As the report shows, NHTSA “already accepts that AEB reduces accidents, and that the Tesla AEB performed according to the current state-of-the-art,” he explained. “But what happens when you combine AEB with Autopilot?”
He noted, “It would be different if Autopilot just added lane-centering to Adaptive Cruise Control (ACC) and AEB. [If that’s the case], Autopilot’s primary function isn’t safety, but it’s convenience. ”