Consumer Reports: Government documents show failures by Tesla; NHTSA must do more to hold companies accountable
Consumer Reports said that emails and other government documents released publicly for the first time show failures by Tesla regarding its safety claims and the performance of Autopilot.
Consumer Reports (CR) said that the documents reveal that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) must do more to ensure investigations are transparent, and ensure companies communicate responsibly with the public about crash ratings.
CR said that the documents show that NHTSA has subpoenaed information from Tesla about crashes involving its Autopilot driver-assist system, and, separately, the agency sent Tesla a cease-and-desist letter last fall to say the agency had become aware of “misleading statements” made by the company about the Tesla Model 3’s safety ratings.
The documents also show that NHTSA has referred Tesla’s safety claims to the Federal Trade Commission and asked the FTC to investigate whether these claims violate laws against deceptive commercial practices.
We have repeatedly called for an investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assist system. It can’t dependably navigate common road situations on its own, and fails to keep the driver engaged behind the wheel. The newly public data only reinforces those concerns.
It’s good that NHTSA is digging into the safety of the Autopilot system, but the agency needs to make these investigations public, for transparency’s sake, and to put added pressure on Tesla to fix the system’s flaws. It shouldn’t take a Freedom of Information Act data dump to know what’s going on here.
These documents also show that NHTSA told Tesla to stop making ‘misleading statements’ about the agency’s crash safety ratings, and that Tesla refused to comply, flouting NHTSA’s authority. In response, NHTSA could simply remove the related safety ratings to help mitigate the confusion Tesla is creating for consumers.
This is another reminder that an update to NHTSA’s five-star safety ratings system is long overdue. DOT leadership should take the 2015 proposal out of neutral so consumers can get the information they need on the safety of new vehicles, especially with the proliferation of crucial driver assistance technologies like automatic emergency braking, pedestrian detection, and blind spot warning.—David Friedman, Vice President of Advocacy for Consumer Reports
Friedman has previously served as both Deputy and Acting Administrator of NHTSA.
Consumer Reports began challenging Tesla’s Autopilot functionality and marketing in 2016, when the organization called on the automaker to disable the automatic steering function in the Autopilot driving-assist system available in its Model S vehicles until the company updated the function to confirm that the driver’s hands remain on the steering wheel at all times.
Consumer Reports at the time also suggested that Tesla should also change the name of the Autopilot feature because it promotes a potentially dangerous assumption that the Model S is capable of driving on its own.
Earlier this year, Consumer Reports dropped the Tesla Model 3 from its “Recommended” list due to declining reliability. In the 2018 Annual Auto Reliability Survey, Tesla fell six spots from 2017 to rank third-worst (27 out of 29). The Model S dropped to “Below Average” in 2018 year, and its Overall Score was no longer high enough to be “Recommended” by CR. The Model X SUV remained “Much-Worse-Than-Average” for reliability, with ongoing problems including the falcon-wing doors and center display screen.