Electric automaker Tesla is facing criticism for the zealous defense of its Autopilot system from safety advocates who are questioning the key data point the company has been using to plead its case.
Since the Autopilot-linked fatality last month, Tesla has claimed the US government found that an early version of Autopilot reduced crash rates by 40%. But several safety experts have said that Tesla is misstating the conclusion reach by its regulator while others want Tesla and a publisher that reported on the incident, NHTSA to release the core data as autonomous driving technology goes under greater scrutiny because of the high-profile deaths that have had happened in conjunction with the technology.
Both Tesla and NHTSA have yet to release the data, which is the subject of an ongoing public-records lawsuit. The electric car-maker, who has been collecting information on the acceleration, braking, and speed of its vehicles, is standing by the original statements.
"If Tesla's going to keep asserting that, and particularly if they're going to keep crediting NHTSA for it, then I think they need to provide the necessary analysis, caveats, and qualifications behind that number," said Bryant Walker Smith, a professor at the University of South Carolina's School of Law, who studies driverless-car regulations. "If that is even close to being true, then that is one of the biggest safety advances since the seat belt."
Tesla's claim comes from a January 2017 NHTSA report that came out after an investigation into Tesla's driver-assistance system. The Tesla Model S that was involved in the fatal crash was on Autopilot, happened in May of 2016 and is what prompted the examination of the technology, though no defect was found.
NHTSA had looked into incidents where airbags were caused to deployed on Autopilot-equipped Model S and Model X vehicles from the 2014-2016 model years to add to the report. They used those values along with mileage data supplied by Tesla to calculate crash rates before and after Autosteer was installed in the vehicles.
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