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Tesla does not have to prove that its self-driving system is safer than human driving before it is released to the public. But what if they do?
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Although Tesla CEO Elon Musk touts the software as an introduction to fully autonomous vehicles, a quick online search reveals videos of FSD-enabled Teslas in North America aiming directly at pedestrians, crashing into parked cars, and slowing down highways without appear. reason. . Not surprisingly, more than a few observers cited FSD as a threat to traffic safety.
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But if you’re looking for similar videos of FSD-enabled Teslas running on European roads, you’ll come up empty. It is not because it is better for the Tesla system to navigate to San Sebastián from San Francisco; there are only FSD videos from Europe at all.
Tesla cannot deliver FSD anywhere in the European Union unless it gets the green light from the regulator. To get that approval, Tesla had to convincingly demonstrate that cars with FSD are at least as safe as those without. At least until now, no.
Tesla cannot deliver FSD anywhere in the European Union unless it gets the green light from the regulator
Unlike their European counterparts, American car regulators do not require – or even offer – safety pre-approval for new car models or technologies. However, car companies are “independent” that their vehicles comply with federal guidelines on everything from steering wheels to brake fluid. But the regulations don’t address the driver assistance and autonomous technologies that are essential to the future of the car — and to the safety of everyone who walks, drives or drives.
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Without facing excessive regulation, automakers like Tesla can legally install any advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) they like, even if it’s dangerous. According to federal law, only if the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) observes a pattern of dangerous problems can they initiate an investigation (which NHTSA is currently doing with Tesla), which can end with a recall. Until then, the car under investigation can continue to roll on the streets and roads of America.
Musk himself summed up the difference across the Atlantic in a speech earlier this year in Berlin: “In the US, these things are legal, and in Europe they are actually illegal.”
Blurring the lines between driver and vehicle, car automation is forcing US regulators to rethink traditional approaches. Federal officials, who were not authorized to speak publicly, said NHTSA is now studying how to create a pre-approval process for autonomous technology, a move that could force U.S. automakers to ask for permission to use new technology — rather than asking for forgiveness. after something goes wrong.
For the United States, this is a good time to ask a fundamental question: is it wise to wait until after a catastrophic attack to protect America from dangerously designed vehicles?
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American car riding was a dangerous risk in the early 20th century; 16 Americans died for every 100 million miles traveled in 1929, more than 10 times today.
Despite the carnage, federal officials ignored the car’s safety until the riots following its 1965 disclosure.
, Ralph Nader’s explosive salesman. A year later, Congress enacted the first comprehensive federal regulations for automobile safety, and NHTSA was born in 1970.
Although federal officials are considering various auto regulatory frameworks, they have never seriously considered forcing automakers to get prior approval for new vehicle models or components.
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Lee Vinsel, a professor of science, technology and society at Virginia Tech who has written a book on the history of automobile regulations, said he has found no records of public leaders from that era, adding to the possibility. However, federal officials chose to put auto companies in the regulatory driver’s seat, and the process established 50 years ago remains intact today.
Here’s how it works: The encyclopedic Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) establish rules for any car sold for use on public roads, touching on everything from the strength of door hinges to the frequency of windshield wipers. NHTSA can and will update the FMVSS to incorporate new technology and features, but the process is moving quickly.
“The new FMVSS elements are expected to take 10-15 years to take effect,” said Daniel Hinkle of the American Judicial Association, a trade group for trial lawyers.
Manufacturers demonstrate compliance with FMVSS through a process called self-certification, which is possible: car companies simply affix a label to each vehicle, indicating compliance. Although NHTSA conducts spot inspections, automakers appear to generally comply with FMVSS; NHTSA alone launched 90 investigations into FMVSS violations in 2020.
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NHTSA will only bring down the hammer with the recall if it investigates a pattern of safety problems on public roads. The investigation took months; meanwhile, Americans continue to drive damaged or dangerous vehicles.
In particular, the US is adopting a more proactive safety posture for aviation safety. When an aircraft manufacturer wants to build a new type of aircraft or modify a part, the company must work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) to obtain approval before installation.
Crash data shows that the framework has served flyers well. According to research by Northwestern University economist Ian Savage, the United States experienced 0.07 airplane fatalities per billion passenger miles from 2000 to 2009—about 1/100th the rate for those driving cars or trucks. But FAA-approved systems don’t come cheap; according to a 2014 Department of Transportation personnel estimate, the FAA employs more than 6,000 people working on vehicle safety while the NHTSA has only 90. while the NHTSA has 0.3.
“It’s not unusual to have a year with no commercial aviation fatalities in the United States,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said at the SXSW festival earlier this year. “But on the streets, we always consider, of course, as a kind of cost of doing business, thousands and thousands of people die every year.”
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We also consider that the FAA’s regulatory model, based on licensed new aircraft and technology, does not apply to cars – even though the number of deaths on American roads is horrendous compared to other developed countries and only getting worse.
Across the Atlantic, Europeans are more likely to die in car accidents than Americans. In France, for example, the per capita road death rate is only one-third higher than in the US.
There are several reasons for the gap, including higher transit ridership in Europe (traveling by bus or train is safer than taking a car), slower city car speeds, and less driving per capita. Europe has also adopted stricter automotive regulatory standards than the FMVSS standards.
For example, new vehicle models sold in the European Union must include intelligent speed assist technology that sounds an alarm or depresses the accelerator if the driver exceeds the speed limit. There is no such requirement in the US.
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From a process perspective, the European car regulatory system is more akin to the US aviation approach than a laissez-faire directive on motor vehicles.
Before a new vehicle or component is released to the public, car companies must obtain prior approval known as type approval from EU member states. Getting the green light takes time and money as regulators review data and conduct audits and tests to verify compliance with EU law. And if car companies want to use technology that has not been regulated by the EU, car manufacturers must demonstrate that the proposed features are at least as safe as vehicles without – requirements that have a significant impact on the use of advanced driver assistance technologies and autonomy.
European car regulations have real teeth; in 2019 they forced Tesla to change some elements of the company’s Autopilot ADAS system, such as limiting how fast the steering wheel can turn when Autopilot is active, and recently the EU forced Tesla to some to give the Autopilot function to all drivers, not just those. . that hit the gamified benchmark. European regulators have not yet approved the use of FSD.
Antony Lagrange, team leader for automated and connected vehicles and safety at the European Commission, made no apologies for confirming European regulations. “We are talking about a very complex and critical product,” he said. “We need to make sure the product is safe for production — and will remain safe after launch.”
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The same is true for over-the-air updates, an increasingly common way to update car software without requiring the owner to visit a dealer. In America, automakers are free to roll out these updates whenever they want, but in Europe, they have to get prior approval from European regulators.
“We need to make sure the product is safe for production — and will remain safe after launch.”
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