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NHTSA Chief Mark Rosekind Essentially Backs Elon Musk's Autopilot Strategy

The recent news of the NHTSA investigating two of the latest Tesla Autopilot crashes might have given the impression that the official agency doesn't particularly like Elon Musk's company.
Mark Rosekind, NHTSA chief 5 photos
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Or course, that's 100 percent ridiculous since the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's job isn't to like or dislike carmakers, but to make sure they don't endanger the lives of their customers. And by investigating the cases - one of which resulted in a casualty - that's precisely what the state agency is doing.

During a conference held yesterday, NHTSA chief Mark Rosekind made it very clear that his organization is all for the development of autonomous cars. With 94 percent of car crashes happening because of human error, he probably sees this technology as a very useful way of reducing the number of lives lost on the roads.

"No one incident will derail the Department of Transportation and NHTSA from its mission to improve safety on the roads by pursuing new lifesaving technologies," Rosekind is quoted by Automotive News. He was clearly referencing to the Tesla Model S crash that's under investigation, but the official denied any comment on its progress.

Mr. Rosekind pointed out that autonomous cars will have to be "much safer" than human drivers to be allowed on US roads, but he failed to specify a clear number. Since the only way to evaluate these things is by using statistics, that probably means we're going to need more autonomous miles than the ones we have so far.

But probably the most important thing that Rosekind said during the conference was this: "If we wait for perfect, we'll be waiting for a very, very long time. How many lives might we be losing while we wait?" This falls perfectly in line with Elon Musk's explanation on why Tesla chose to release the Autopilot before it was fully autonomous. During the recently released Master Plan "Part Deux," Tesla's CEO explained that "when used correctly, it [the Autopilot] is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability."

Rosekind highlights one of the most important advantages that self-driving cars have over human drivers which is the ability to share everything they learn almost instantly. By contrast, each driver has to "make the same mistakes as thousands before them," the NHTSA chief said.

These statements should come as an important boost for everyone developing self-driving cars in the USA. The NHTSA had already announced a set of guidelines for automated vehicles, but the initial July 14 deadline has been moved to a vaguer "late summer." But the important thing to take from this conference is that the NHTSA and the Department of Transport fully back the development of self-driving cars.


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