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Activists turn on Tesla over “self-driving” claim

If the campaign garners the attention of authorities, it would prove highly costly for the electric vehicle maker

tesla self-driving
Image: Pexels

Recently, Tesla found itself in hot water with the Department of Motor Vehicles over claims it made in the past about its self-driving technology.

Now activists and senior figures in the motor industry are also laying into the electric car brand, calling its marketing not only false but dangerous, too. 

Ralph Nader urges regulators to recall Tesla vehicles

Ralph Nader, an automotive professional responsible for changing forever car safety in the U.S., has called on the DMV to recall all Tesla vehicles offering self-driving technology.

In a direct attack on Elon Musk, Nader believes that claims that Tesla vehicles are self-driving are dangerous. Furthermore, Nader thinks that the technology does not perform as intended. 

Musk initially claimed in 2015 that self-driving technology was just a couple of years away. So Musk offered customers to equip their vehicles with various cameras and sensors to enable new robot software.

tesla vehicle showing navigate on autopilot feature on model 3
Image: Teslarati

However, those timelines never came to pass. While Tesla made significant improvements in its software in the last seven years, full self-driving technology wasn’t one of them.

The company’s cars cannot drive owners from one destination to another without significant driver assistance. Throughout the entire self-driving saga, Musk’s critics have been vocal.

Technologists criticized the feasibility of the technology and repeatedly put Tesla well behind other rivals, such as Waymo, in their analysis of its capabilities.

Policymakers also repeatedly attacked the concept, pointing out that self-driving vehicles appeared unable to prevent even the most obvious of accidents. 

Now Nader is entering the fray. And thanks to his track record in the industry, he may be the most potent adversary the company has faced so far.

In a scathing attack on the California-based car firm, he says that deploying complete self-driving systems in its vehicles was one of a car company’s most irresponsible actions in decades.

consumer reports tesla no driver
Image: Consumer Reports

Tesla, he said, should never have put the technology in its vehicles and certainly shouldn’t have advertised it. 

Thus far, the comments only appear on Nader’s website. Officials have yet to take action against Tesla owing to its self-driving tech. However, they may get involved, given Nader’s significant clout in the industry.

The automotive safety guru called on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to recall all self-driving technology in Tesla from circulation. This can create one of the biggest corporate crises in U.S. history.

Ultimately, Nader called on regulators to act immediately to prevent the growing number of deaths and injuries from using the technology. 

Nader could be a Tesla killer

Nader has been a significant figure in the U.S. automotive industry since 1965. The quasi-celebrity has been writing punishing reports on car makers for decades and even wrote a best-selling book, Unsafe at any Speed.

This piece highlights how automotive manufacturers refused to implement basic safety features in their vehicles. Such features as seatbelts and anti-lock brakes originally weren’t standards. 

Nader was one of the primary reasons the U.S. government began implementing stricter safety regulations. These regulations force car companies to deploy basic features that would protect occupants.

tesla driver safety score
Image: KnowTechie

He was a founding member of the NHTSA, a public body dedicated to saving lives and preventing injuries resulting from traffic crashes.

Although Nader isn’t a car accident lawyer, he was still inducted into the Automotive Hall of Fame for his contributions in 2016. 

Given his long history in the industry and affiliation with major automotive safety organizations, he poses a real threat to Musk.

If the campaigner can garner the attention of authorities and achieve his proposed recall, it would prove highly costly for the electric vehicle maker. 

Why Is self-driving So controversial?

tesla car
Image: Pexels

While self-driving technology isn’t here for Tesla customers, Musk views it as foundational to the company’s business plan.

As recently as 2021, the mogul told reporters that it was still central to the brand’s efforts. And something his team was working on continuously.

It was the difference, he said, between Tesla having a high market cap and being worth zero. Nader’s complaints are the latest in a string of criticisms regarding the company’s self-driving technology.

Customers, for instance, have pointed out how Tesla’s technology often brakes on highways without any reason. Including failing to brake if it sees children

The company’s vehicles have also been the focus of multiple previous NHTSA investigations.

The safety body is investigating nearly a dozen accidents caused by Tesla vehicles with autopilot features. Such accidents have killed one woman and injured seventeen more. 

tesla car visualizing full-self driving autopilot
Image: Tesla

The NHTSA also recently stated that it would deepen its analysis of Tesla’s fully self-driving technology. And subject autopilot technology to more scrutiny.

The agency said autopilot may have been behind nine fatal crashes, leading to a combined 14 deaths. Nader says that the sheer volume of crashes involving Tesla’s Autopilot system is extensive.

In his post, he says 400 crashes were using some form of self-driving technology in the last ten months, with 273 involving Tesla vehicles.

Because of these alarming facts, the safety veteran encouraged regulators to gain greater company technology oversight. They also insist on higher standards before the general deployment of their vehicles.

In a scathing attack on Musk, he pointed out that high-profile corporations and celebrity CEOs should not be above the “laws of manslaughter.


tesla car emblem with water droplets
Image: Unsplash

Whether Musk or Tesla will change course based on these criticisms and others remains to be seen.

However, the company is still planning to push ahead with its self-driving vehicle plans. Tesla will continue to roll out the technology to customers. 

Tesla will almost certainly defend itself via comparative analysis. For example, they are pointing out how its vehicles are considerably safer than those of other manufacturers.

It will also likely compare the safety of its systems per mile driven compared to human drivers. The latter are usually considerably more dangerous than the former. 

However, if the NHTSA carries out Nader’s threat, the self-driving tech will undoubtedly be dealt a significant blow.

Furthermore, it could push back technology by decades. It could also cause Tesla’s valuation to drop significantly. 

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