New Tesla Crash Triggers Regulation Reviews on Autonomous Cars


Tesla has developed some of the most advanced vehicles on the market in terms of safety features, infotainment, and autonomous computers. The company is no stranger to mishaps and setbacks in its pursuit of progress, though.

You’ve probably heard about various accidents caused by the onboard computers designed for self-driving in Tesla models a few years back, but another one has just occurred near Houston, Texas that has drawn the attention of the federal government. Here’s how that could shape the future of self-driving cars.

The Accident

It was a Saturday night near Houston when a Tesla Model S was driving down a residential road. The car veered off the road and crashed, catching fire and ultimately killing the two men inside. One was found in the passenger seat while the other was found in the back seat.

The question is whether or not Tesla’s Autopilot system was active, which authorities for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board have sent teams in to investigate. Local authorities have also issued search warrants as part of the probe.

Elon Musk was able to show that Autopilot was not engaged at the time of the accident, something Tesla keeps strict data on. He also noted that their standard version of Autopilot requires the lane lines feature to turn on, which couldn’t have happened since the road the car was driving on did not have lines.

Furthermore, there are security features in place for Autopilot. The most important in this case being that the driver’s seat detects weight, stopping the use of autopilot when there is no driver present. Adding to this is that the Model S in question did not include the Full Self-Driving feature offered by Tesla.

It’s a conundrum, one that even legal experts like this San Francisco Bay Area car accident attorney might puzzle at, but those are the facts. While there are still plenty of questions remaining around this fatal accident, authorities are looking at the possibility of new regulations for self-driving technologies.

Considering Regulations

The NHTSA has investigated 28 Tesla accidents in recent years, including three since March of 2021. While they’ve relied on auto manufacturer’s compliance up until now, the organization feels like its time to take hard action.

That’s not a bad thing considering that there are currently no regulations specifically designed for autonomous driving systems. The NHTSA’s goal isn’t to stop progress, but make sure that progress happens safely.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who ran on the Democratic primary ticket for the 2020 election, has made it clear that policy needs to catch up with technology. He indicated that the NHTSA will be working with Congress on the issue.

Moving Forward

These are all considerations, however. There are no current regulations being crafted or expected to be passed at the moment. Regardless, experts agree that Tesla needs reigned in for a number of reasons. Those reasons start with Tesla’s data.

Elon Musk has put out the company’s own data stating that their Autopilot systems are roughly ten times safer than standard driving. That data doesn’t include system failures or when a driver fails to respond to them, however, making it incomplete and therefore inaccurate.

The terms “Autopilot” and “Full Self-Driving” are misleading as neither are true to what these technology systems accomplish, leading some experts to view the brand as one testing potential future capabilities on consumers as if they were lab rats.

Others focus on the fact that Tesla sells the idea of autonomy in tandem with safety, completely ignoring the various mishaps their systems experience and the often-fatal consequences. Regardless of what happens next, federal agencies are indeed ready to review new regulations that allow vehicle autonomy to advance but force companies to do so in a much safer manner.