Ralph Nader, a former presidential candidate and nationally recognized consumer protection advocate, called on federal regulators to recall Tesla’s “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) driver-assist feature, calling its deployment “one of the most dangerous and irresponsible actions by a car company in decades.”
Nader, who first came to prominence with the 1965 publication of the bestselling book Unsafe at Any Speed, a highly influential critique of the American auto industry, said that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) must use its recall authority to order that Tesla’s FSD technology be removed from every vehicle.
“I am calling on federal regulators to act immediately to prevent the growing deaths and injuries from Tesla manslaughtering crashes with this technology,” Nader said in a statement released by the Center for Auto Safety.
Nader’s comments are the latest in a growing chorus of voices calling for the government to make a decision on Tesla’s FSD, which critics say pushes the limits of what should be available to drivers. NHTSA is currently investigating 16 crashes in which Tesla vehicle owners using Autopilot crashed into stationary emergency vehicles, resulting in 15 injuries and one fatality. Most of these incidents took place after dark, with the software ignoring scene control measures including warning lights, flares, cones, and an illuminated arrow board. The probe was recently upgraded to an “Engineering Analysis,” which is the second and final phase of an investigation before a possible recall.
In his statement, Nader notes that Tesla recently reported that over 100,000 vehicle owners are currently beta testing FSD on public roads. (The company has approximately 3 million vehicles on the road globally.)
Tesla vehicles today come standard with a driver-assist feature called Autopilot. For an additional $12,000, owners can buy the FSD option, which Tesla CEO Elon Musk has repeatedly promised will one day deliver fully autonomous capabilities. But to date, FSD remains a “Level 2” advanced driver-assistance system, meaning the driver must stay fully engaged in the operation of the vehicle while it’s in motion.
In addition to the emergency vehicle crashes, NHTSA has also compiled a list of Special Crash Investigations (SCI) in which the agency collects data beyond what local authorities and insurance companies typically gather at the scene. The agency also examines crashes involving advanced driver-assist systems, like Tesla’s Autopilot, and automated driving systems.
As of July 26th, there are 48 crashes on the agency’s SCI list, 39 of which involved Tesla vehicles using Autopilot. Nineteen people, including drivers, passengers, pedestrians, other drivers, and motorcyclists, were killed in those Tesla crashes.
Last week, California’s DMV accused Tesla of falsely advertising its Autopilot and FSD features, alleging that the company made “untrue or misleading” claims about its vehicles’ autonomous driving capabilities. The DMV’s action could result in the suspension of Tesla’s licenses to produce and sell cars in California, but the agency may not go that far.
Tesla has faced similar complaints in the past. In 2016, the German government asked the company to stop using the term “Autopilot” over concerns that it could suggest its vehicles are fully autonomous. Last year, Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) asked the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to investigate the way Tesla advertises its Autopilot and FSD system, claiming the automaker “overstated the capabilities of its vehicles,” which could “pose a threat to motorists and other users of the road.”
Now, Nader is lending his expertise and reputation to the fight. The consumer protection advocate said that NHTSA must act before anyone else is killed.
“This nation should not allow this malfunctioning software which Tesla itself warns may do the ‘wrong thing at the worst time’ on the same streets where children walk to school,” he said. “Together we need to send an urgent message to the casualty-minded regulators that Americans must not be test dummies for a powerful, high-profile corporation and its celebrity CEO. No one is above the laws of manslaughter.”