Elon Musk portrays FSD software as a prelude to fully autonomous vehicles. Yet, a quick online search reveals videos of FSD-enabled Teslas in North America looking straight at pedestrians, smashing into parked cars, and stalling down on a highway for no tangible reason.
Unsurprisingly, more than a few onlookers have declared FSD a hazard to traffic safety. But if you peek into comparable videos of FSD-enabled Teslas stumbling through Europe’s cobblestone streets, you’ll come up empty.
It’s not because Tesla’s system can better navigate San Sebastián than San Francisco; there are simply no FSD videos from Europe.
Tesla cannot employ FSD anywhere in the European Union unless it first gets the green light from controllers. To get that permission, Tesla must convincingly establish that cars with FSD are at least as secure as those without it. Unfortunately, at least that distant, it hasn’t.
Unlike their European counterparts, American car controllers do not need — or even suggest — any safety preapproval for a fresh automobile standard or technology. Instead, car businesses “self-certify” that their vehicles concede with federal procedures, from steering wheels to brake fluids. But no such rules handle the driver assistance and autonomous technologies critical to the car’s fate — and to the security of everyone who walks, cycles, or drives.
Facing no meaningful oversight, automakers like Tesla can lawfully deploy any advanced driver-assist system (ADAS) they like, however dangerous it may be. However, according to federal regulation, only if the Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) follows a routine of complex issues can it establish research (which NHTSA is now accomplishing with Tesla), potentially pinnacling in a remembrance. Until then, the cars under analysis can persist zooming along American highways and streets.
With its blurring of cords between driver and vehicle, the industrialization of cars is forcing US controllers to reconsider their conventional practice. A federal official, who was not permitted to speak publicly, said that NHTSA is presently investigating how it could structure a preapproval strategy for autonomous technologies. It is a move that could eventually force US carmakers to ask permission to deploy new technology — rather than appeal for forgiveness after something goes wrong.
Riding in an American automobile was a dangerous proposition during the early 20th century; 16 Americans were killed per 100Mn Miles driven in 1929, higher than ten times today’s rate.
Despite the carnage, national officials expended minimal awareness on car safety until wrath followed 1965 Unsafe at Any Speed journal, Ralph Nader’s volatile bestseller. A year later, Congress legislated the first comprehensive federal rules for car safety, and NHTSA was accepted in 1970.
Even as federal administrators weighed diverse automotive regulatory frameworks, they never thoughtfully believed in forcing carmakers to acquire preapproval for a new vehicle model or element.
The comprehensive Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSS) specify rules for any car sold for use on public roads, handling everything from the stability of door hinges to the frequency of windshield wipers. NHTSA can revise FMVSS to integrate new technologies and features, but the process proceeds glacially.
Any action toward type approval would be a severe political lift, encountering opposition from an unmanageable auto industry as well as fiscal hawks cautious of adding to NHTSA’s funding. But the transition does not happen all at once; it could begin with a few preapproval checks for obvious safety problems, like phantom braking. Then, with a more powerful NHTSA, carmakers might reconsider the understanding of putting work-in-progress ADAS or autonomous systems on public roads.
With road deaths already at a 20-year high, we require more infrequent risks — not more of them — on American roads and highways. So type approval could be a critical tool to help navigate the autonomous era.