I saw a tweet and article this morning that I think deserves a polite response. David Zipper at Slate says that “The Biden Administration Needs to Do Something About Tesla.” He also (rightly) says that many Tesla fans don’t like his call for the government to take action in regard to Autopilot and Full Self Driving.
In the article, he does bring up some very valid concerns that we can’t simply brush off as being part of a conspiracy to hurt Tesla for Big Oil or $TSLAQ. There are people who don’t get that Autopilot and the FSD Beta aren’t fully functional self-driving car systems, and there are sometimes bad results the misunderstanding. In theory, a driver is supposed to know the risks because they have to acknowledge them on a screen before using the systems, but we all know that people don’t read EULAs before using computer software and we shouldn’t expect everyone to take on-screen warnings seriously.
Where I differ from Mr. Zipper is in execution. Joe Biden isn’t going to be President of the United States until late January of next year, and even then, he’s going to be buried in higher priorities for months before his administration can even think about looking at Tesla’s approach to these safety issues. The COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, civil rights, and many other important issues aren’t going to go away on January 21. We can’t wait for Joe Biden to direct federal agencies to force Tesla to do things the way other manufacturers do, even if that was the right approach to addressing these issues.
If someone breaks into my house at 3:00 AM and threatens my family, I’m not going to wait 10 minutes for someone else to come and “do something” about it. Instead, I’m going to take private action that can happen immediately to make sure my family is OK. I’ll leave it to your imagination what I’d do, but be sure to wear your imaginary ear protection for safety.
We can’t (and shouldn’t) wait for the FTC to demand Tesla market its software differently, or for NHTSA to start taking action next summer and then not do something until months later. We definitely can’t wait for Congress to do something, as they’re notorious for taking forever if they get to something at all. We need to take other action to ensure safety, and not necessarily make this an “us versus Tesla” fight.
First off, it’s up to us to raise awareness and, more importantly, educate. It’s easy to criticize and scare people, it’s harder to come up with real educational materials that can help drivers safely use these systems. In a previous article, I attempted to do this a little based on my experience as a safety instructor and coursework in risk mitigation, but I know that’s not going to be enough. In the meantime, fans need to be steering owners toward safety resources and encourage people to be responsible with these systems.
Second, we really need safety groups to step in and create better materials than what I’ve been able to scrape together for a couple of blog posts. It’s easy to say that Tesla is taking the wrong approach, and yes, you’d be bailing Tesla out by preventing accidents, but the lives that are at stake require us to be smart and take care of business ASAP. I know that Tesla’s competitors are training test drivers to test their systems, so you all definitely have the material available. If there were a decent online course that helped Tesla owners be better prepared for what might go wrong, this site and many others would definitely be sending them your way.
Finally, we need to be working with Tesla to get beta testers and Autopilot users to use these educational materials before using those ADAS systems. I don’t know exactly what that would look like, but it needs to be better than clicking “OK” to some disclaimer on a screen. If we prepare good, proven materials and show them to Tesla, we can improve the safety situation much faster.
I know it’s not easy to do the things I’m asking here. Tesla fans can be particularly insufferable online, and Elon Musk is, well, Elon Musk. If we want things to get better, we need to swallow some pride and find ways to make a difference together instead of waiting for Joe Biden to do … something … eventually.
Ideally, we can have this problem mostly solved by the time the regulators are on scene, and fewer people will get hurt.
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