The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the National Transportation Safety board said this week they would send teams to investigate the Saturday night crash on a residential road that killed two men in a Tesla Model S.
Local authorities said one man was found in the passenger seat, while another was in the back. They’re issuing search warrants in the probe, which will determine whether the Tesla’s Autopilot partially automated system was in use. Autopilot can keep a car centered in its lane, keep a distance from cars in front of it, and can even change lanes automatically in some circumstances.
In the past, NHTSA, which has authority to regulate automakers and seek recalls for defective vehicles, has taken a hands-off approach to regulating partial and fully automated systems for fear of hindering development of promising new features.
But since March, the agency has stepped up inquiries into Teslas, dispatching teams to three crashes. It has investigated 28 Tesla crashes in the past few years, but thus far has relied on voluntary safety compliance from auto and tech companies.
“With a new administration in place, we’re reviewing regulations around autonomous vehicles,” the agency said last month.
Agency critics say regulations — especially of Tesla — are long overdue as the automated systems keep creeping toward being fully autonomous. At present, though, there are no specific regulations and no fully self-driving systems available for sale to consumers in the U.S.
At issue is whether Tesla CEO Elon Musk has over-sold the capability of his systems by using the name Autopilot or telling customers that “Full Self-Driving” will be available this year.
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