Tesla Defends Autopilot Safety in Response to Senators

A Tesla steering wheel
Tesla has come under criticism for its promotion of the Autopilot and Full-Self Driving features. (Angel Garcia/Bloomberg News)

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Tesla Inc. defended the safety benefits of its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving driver-assist systems in a response to lawmakers who have criticized the company’s marketing of the technology.

“Tesla’s vehicles combine powerful onboard technology with an all-electric powertrain to help our drivers maximize their driving potential and keep themselves and other road users safe,” Rohan Patel, senior director of public policy and business development for Tesla, wrote March 4 in a letter to Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).

“Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD Capability features enhance the ability of our customers to drive safer than the average driver in the U.S.,” Patel said.

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The letter was previously reported by Reuters.

Tesla has come under criticism for its promotion of the Autopilot and Full-Self Driving features, which critics say give the impression to drivers that the vehicles are capable of hands-off operation. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has opened two defect investigations into Tesla’s autopilot, and the Austin, Texas-based automaker has launched at least 11 recalls in the U.S. with several related to features the automaker disabled with over-the-air updates under pressure from NHTSA.

Blumenthal and Markey said in a joint statement Tesla’s response to their criticisms amounted to “more evasion and deflection from Tesla.”

“Despite its troubling safety track record and deadly crashes, the company seemingly wants to carry on with business as usual,” the lawmakers wrote. “It’s long past time Tesla got the message: follow the law and prioritize safety.”