- Sen. Richard Blumenthal criticized Elon Musk’s decision to tweet about a deadly crash.
- Authorities in Texas said Tesla’s Autopilot was engaged when two people were killed in a crash in Houston this month.
- Musk dismissed the connection between the Autopilot and the crash on Twitter.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal has called out Tesla CEO Elon Musk for his response to a fatal Tesla crash this month.
“I was very disappointed that Tesla through its CEO took to Twitter to downplay the involvement of the company’s advanced driver assistance system before both the NTSB and NTHSA have completed their ongoing investigation into the deadly accident,” Blumenthal, a Democrat from Connecticut, said Tuesday during a Senate committee hearing.
Earlier this month, a Tesla Model S crashed into a tree and burst into flames in Houston, killing two people. Evidence from the crash site indicates no one was in the driver’s seat and it may have been operating on Autopilot. Tesla’s electric vehicles come with Autopilot, a feature that allows the cars to brake, accelerate, and steer automatically.
“Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled & this car did not purchase FSD,” Musk tweeted this week, referring to the company’s full self-driving software. Tesla sells FSD as a $10,000 one-off add-on, which it plans to release widely in 2021. FSD allows cars to park themselves, change lanes, and identify both stop signs and traffic lights.
“Moreover, standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have,” Musk contended.
“This is completely false,” Musk said. He added that journalists who suggested Autopilot was at fault “should be ashamed of themselves.” Tesla’s Vice President of Vehicle Engineering, Lars Moravy, also shared details regarding the accident that he said Tesla had learned from assisting in the local and federal investigations so far.
After the crash, Texas police told multiple outlets, including the Wall Street Journal, that investigators were 99.9% sure that no one was behind the wheel when the car crashed. The Tesla software which has only been rolled out in beta form still requires a licensed operator behind the wheel, but a recent Consumer Report found that a Tesla will drive without anyone in the driver’s seat.
During the Senate subcommittee hearing, two major automotive groups called for federal safety regulations to be updated in light of the recent Tesla crashes. To date there are no federal regulations or performance standards for autonomous cars.
Executives from the Alliance for Automotive Innovation and Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association said the NHTSA needs to create these regulations as soon as possible to prevent more drivers from abusing the new technology.
“The U.S. is in danger of losing our competitive edge due to a lack of clear national policies,” Ann Wilson, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, said during the hearing.
Blumenthal seemed to agree with the automotive groups’ stance.
“Tesla’s crash highlights that there are many unanswered questions regarding the technology that purports to be automated,” he told CNBC. “Sadly, there are no current regulations to provide the public with a lot of comfort that more automation without significantly upgraded consumer protection is the answer.”
Texas police are still investigating the crash. The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration, as well as the National Transportation Safety Board are also looking into the crash, along with several other Tesla crashes believed to be related to the autonomous driving software. The NHTSA has about 24 ongoing investigations into Tesla crashes, while the NTSB has opened eight.
“Our investigation is ongoing,” the NTSB told Insider. “We have not drawn any conclusions at this point.”
Blumenthal, Tesla, and the NHTSA did not respond to a request for comment from Insider.