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Tesla pushed to raise safety standards of driverless function by US regulator

Image credit: reuters

Tesla has been urged to limit where drivers can use its vehicles’ Autopilot function, as well as implement a system to ensure that drivers are paying attention, by the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB).

In a letter to the automaker’s founder Elon Musk, NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy questioned Musk's decision to allow drivers access to his firm’s “Full Self-Driving Beta technology” without having first rectified the problems with the system that have caused multiple fatal crashes in recent years.

The NTSB is still investigating the most recent fatal accident, which occurred in April this year, and which killed both occupants of the vehicle.

The driver's Tesla car reportedly crashed after losing control while trying to take a curve at high speed. Neither the driver nor his fellow passenger was at the wheel, ready to take control in the event of an incident, as is required under the terms of Tesla’s driverless software. However, Tesla's vehicles have no system in place to ensure that drivers are using the functionality as intended.

“If you are serious about putting safety front and centre in Tesla vehicle design, I invite you to complete action on the safety recommendations we issued to you four years ago,” Homendy wrote. “It’s crucial that such technology is implemented with the safety of all road users foremost in mind.”

Despite the request, Tesla has never formally responded to NTSB’s recommendations, but pressure on the firm is mounting. Last month, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) called on Tesla to share detailed information about how its Autopilot system detects and responds to emergency vehicles parked on roads. This follows an incident in which a Tesla car collided with a stationary police car, despite the latter vehicle having its bright, flashing warning lights on in full.  

Tesla has also faced accusations that the level 2 ‘partially automated’ system “lacks safeguards”.

Despite the ongoing concerns from regulators, Tesla announced that it has received a massive order of 100,000 electric vehicles (primarily its Model 3 sedans) from car rental firm Hertz, in one of its largest-ever bulk orders.

With global EV sales skyrocketing 200 per cent in the last year, Hertz said the order will help it to meet growing demand from its customers. Hertz already offers a range of EVs from other manufacturers.

The company added that high efficiency, positive user experience and climate change benefits – coupled with battery breakthroughs and rapidly expanding charging networks - formed part of its decision.

“Electric vehicles are now mainstream and we’ve only just begun to see rising global demand and interest,” said Mark Fields, Hertz interim CEO. “The new Hertz is going to lead the way as a mobility company, starting with the largest EV rental fleet in North America and a commitment to grow our EV fleet and provide the best rental and recharging experience for leisure and business customers around the world.”

The announcement sent Tesla’s stock soaring, in turn increasing Musk’s already gargantuan fortune by approximately $25.6bn, according to Forbes. Musk's net worth is now thought to be around $255.2bn, making him the richest person in history and currently worth more than Google cofounder Larry Page (sixth-richest) and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (seventh-richest) combined.

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