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NTSB Chairman: Tesla Fans’ Criticism of Missy Cummings a ‘Calculated Attempt’ to Deflect Security’s Attention

Tesla fans and CEO Elon Musk have spoken out against Duke professor Missy Cummings since she was named senior advisor to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration last week (NHTSA), which regulates automobiles. Driver assistance systems such as Tesla’s autopilot and a more advanced version called “fully autonomous driving” have never been regulated. Cummings, who has extensive experience in field research, called for regulating the systems.

Cummings began her career as one of the first women to be a fighter pilot in the US Navy. As an engineering professor at Duke and director of the Humans and Autonomy Laboratory, she has published articles in peer-reviewed journals examining how people use autonomous systems. Cummings also testified on Capitol Hill on autonomous driving. She is too research the limitations of Tesla’s driver monitoring system on the Model 3, and said Tesla should limit autopilot to roads where it was designed to be used.
Musk tweeted Last week that Cummings’ track record is “extremely biased against Tesla” and provided no explanation. He did not respond on Twitter when Cummings replied that she would be happy to meet him. Tesla fans circulated a petition which received more than 28,000 signatures, calling for Cummings’ appointment to be reviewed for “conflict of interest and bias”.

Cummings then received a torrent of messages attacking him, including death threats. She deleted her account after Twitter refused to delete an account that was pretending to be her. This account had received a response from Musk, highlighting the spoofed tweet to some of his over 61 million followers.

“This is a calculated attempt to distract from the real security concerns that everyone should be focusing on,” Homendy told CNN Business Tuesday. “It’s noise. Put it aside.”

Homendy sent Tesla a letter on Monday expressing concern that Tesla had not taken action on the safety recommendations it had made in recent years for the autopilot, including limiting where it can be used.

The NTSB investigates safety issues on everything from airplanes to pipelines, bridges, ships and cars, and Homendy told CNN Business that over 80% of NTSB recommendations are generally adopted. The NTSB has received responses from five other automakers to which it has also made driver assistance recommendations: VW, BMW, Nissan, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo.

Homendy said criticism from the Tesla community of Cummings, NHTSA and NTSB is something she doesn’t see elsewhere.

“You will never get that in others [transportation] modes. It just wouldn’t happen, ”Homendy said. “We have made recommendations to other automakers and we are not getting that response. NHTSA publishes regulations throughout the auto industry and they don’t get that answer either. ”

Tesla does not generally engage with professional news media and did not respond to a request for comment. Cummings declined a request for an interview.

Homendy said security professionals need to bring conversations back to safety.

“I refuse to even read, acknowledge or respond to any criticism because I feel like these are really the safety issues we need to talk about,” Homendy said.

Former Duke teacher Missy Cummings has been appointed NHTSA Senior Safety Advisor.
The NTSB has asked Tesla to limit the use of the autopilot to the conditions for which it is designed. The agency investigated two fatal Tesla crashes in which Autopilot was used on the roads it was not designed for. NHTSA is also investigating at least 11 crashes in which Teslas using autopilot crashed into stopped emergency vehicles on the roads.
Tesla has published data Since 2018, this shows there are fewer crashes per mile with autopilot than without autopilot, but critics have called it an apples and oranges comparison. Autopilot mileage is more likely to occur on freeways, a type of road that already has fewer accidents per mile. Research showed that Tesla drivers are more likely to be distracted when using autopilot.

Homendy said she was concerned about Tesla’s continued expansion of its driver assistance technology on highways and city streets, while failing to address “serious safety gaps.”

For a year, a small group of Tesla enthusiasts tested an early version of its “fully autonomous driving” software, designed for use on city streets. Tesla has extended “fully autonomous driving” to around 1,000 owners this month. There is also talk of a wider expansion.
Tesla had to roll back the latest version of the software hours after it was released on Sunday after Conductors reported unnecessary automatic emergency braking and forward collision warnings. Some drivers have told CNN Business that they weren’t even able to turn on “fully autonomous driving.” Tesla released another version on Monday to some drivers, who generally said they saw improvements.

NHTSA told CNN Business on Monday that he had contacted Tesla for more information on the recent changes.

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