NHTSA clears Tesla Autopilot death while too cozy with automakers

In a last minute action by the outgoing administration, the National Highway Traffic Administration today ended its probe of the fatal crash of a Tesla in Florida last May by wrongly blaming the driver instead of the car’s “Autopilot” technology, Consumer Watchdog said. The group believes that current NHTSA leaders did not take action so that they can land high-paying jobs at automotive and tech companies when they leave their posts.

“NHTSA has wrongly accepted Tesla’s line and blamed the human, rather than the ‘Autopilot’ technology and Tesla’s aggressive marketing” said John M. Simpson, Consumer Watchdog’s Privacy Project Director. “The very name ‘Autopilot’ creates the impression that a Tesla can drive itself. It can’t. Some people who apparently believed Tesla’s hype got killed. Tesla CEO Elon Musk should have been held accountable.”

The tragic death of Tesla drivers while using AutoPilot are nominated for the Edsel Hugo Award for the greatest SNAFU, there is still time to vote your conscience.

Closing the investigation came as part of a series of “midnight actions” by the outgoing Obama Administration’s Transportation officials favoring the self-driving car industry.

On Monday, Martin Luther King Day, the Department of Transportation’s Advisory Committee on Automation in Transportation, co-chaired by GM CEO Marry Barra, met for the first time.

Wednesday, NHTSA denied a petition filed in January by consumer advocates, including Consumer Watchdog, seeking a rulemaking requiring automatic emergency braking on all new cars.

“The is no reason for this unseemly haste, unless DOT Secretary Anthony Foxx and NHTSA Administrator Mark Rosekind are positioning themselves to go through the perpetual revolving door and land a job in the industry they were supposed to be regulating.” said Simpson. “We have called on them to pledge not to do so, but they have not.”

NHTSA’s report closing the investigation said, “NHTSA’s examination did not identify any in design or performance of the AEB or Autopilot systems of the subject vehicles nor any incidents in which the systems did not perform as designed.”

Consumer Watchdog said the problem has been the way Musk and Tesla have hyped Tesla’s abilities, including videos of both Musk and his wife with their hands off the steering wheel.

“NHTSA is simply too cozy with the industry it is supposed to be regulating,” said Simpson.