Auto Tech

Tesla crash prompts senators to push for new safety recommendations

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey urge NHTSA to work on new guidelines for driver-assist systems.

The most recent crash involving a Tesla is raising a lot of questions.

Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Ed Markey have called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to step in after a Tesla Model S crash in Texas that killed two people on Saturday, neither apparently at the wheel. The senators, both Democrats, penned a letter to NHTSA Acting Administrator Steven Cliff urging the agency to introduce safety recommendations for driver-assistance systems, the Wall Street Journal first reported on Thursday.

NHTSA declined to comment on the letter, but the agency will review the senators' comments. The heightened calls for action came following investigators' claims that neither of the people killed in the Tesla were actually driving the vehicle when it crashed north of Houston: One person was found in the front passenger seat and the other was located in the back seat. It remains unclear if Autopilot or the Full Self-Driving beta were involved in the crash, though Tesla CEO Elon Musk said this week that early data logs show they were not. Police have since demanded additional data from the automaker. Tesla does not operate a public relations department to field requests for comment.

The senators called the crashes involving Tesla vehicles over the past few years a "pattern" that's become "worrisome" and that it deserves the full attention of NHTSA. In March, the National Transportation Safety Board urged the agency to hash out rules surrounding "self-driving cars" citing Tesla's recent beta for the FSD system, which registers as a Level 2 driver-assist system on the SAE scale of autonomy. No vehicle currently on sale has the ability to drive itself. The NTSB has also called for more safety guidelines surrounding driver-assist technology in the past, though that lies solely with NHTSA -- the board can only make recommendations.

On Thursday, Consumer Reports showed how simple it is to trick Tesla's Autopilot system into thinking a driver remains behind the wheel when there isn't one. Some steering wheel weight and a buckled seat belt, but no driver, is all it took.