SANTA BARBARA, CA: Founder of The Dawn Project and secure software expert Dan O’Dowd has implored policymakers to ensure that legislation regarding autonomous vehicles prioritizes public safety. Dan O’Dowd is advocating for there to be standards that all autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles must meet, together with safety tests that they must pass, before they are released onto public roads.

Before a carmaker can sell a product whose name suggests that it is autonomous, the manufacturer must demonstrate that the product can achieve 10,000 miles between disengagements. All autonomous and semi-autonomous vehicles must also be able to consistently pass a driver’s test, and be retested every time there is an update to the software. These vehicles must also be able to read and be familiar with each state’s Driver’s Handbook, and obey all standards and instructions contained in it.

In a letter addressed to ranking members of the House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Innovation, Data, and Commerce, Dan O’Dowd urged regulators to ensure that legislative measures are taken to address the deadly safety risk represented by Tesla Full Self-Driving as Congress contemplates federal frameworks to regulate the AV industry.

Dan O’Dowd’s public letter, which was addressed to Chairwoman Rodgers, Ranking Member Pallone, Chairman Bilirakis and Ranking Member Schakowsky, follows the news that legislators considered regulation on the adoption of self-driving vehicles at a congressional hearing on July 26, in a hearing entitled: “Self-Driving Vehicle Legislative Framework: Enhancing Safety, Improving Lives and Mobility, and Beating China.”

In the absence of a comprehensive federal framework on software security and safety in the autonomous vehicle sector, safety experts have called upon Congress to introduce measures to protect road users from experimental and untested software being deployed on public roads. Dan’s open letter follows other leading safety advocates pressuring Congress to act, after open source statistics provided by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) have revealed that, since June 2021, Tesla’s self-driving systems have been active in 840 accidents. As such, Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety President Cathy Chase recently commented: “Congress must take action to make our roads safer, not open them up to unproven and unregulated vehicles.”

Founder of The Dawn Project and secure software expert Dan O’Dowd commented: “For the past two years, we have warned NHTSA, Congress and the public of the critical safety defects present in Tesla’s dangerous and defective self-driving systems. Now is the time to act to protect the public from dangerous, experimental technology to ensure that driver control systems, such as advanced driver assistance systems and autonomous vehicles, are tested to be 100% safe before they are put into production and sold to the public. Under current law, there are no restrictions to placing any technology in vehicles, no matter how dangerous that technology may be.

We implore Congress to close this dangerous gap in current law. Tesla’s unchecked deployment of its self-driving systems, ‘Full Self-Driving’ and ‘Autopilot’, is a clear and present danger to our road users. Per data from NHTSA’s Standing General Order on Crash Reporting, at least 23 Americans have already died in crashes involving Tesla’s self-driving software since June 2021. Open-source data from community trackers of deaths involving Tesla’s self-driving systems place the total number of fatalities at 38 since 2016. In its present state, this defective technology has no place on our public roads.  

The Dawn Project tests have revealed a litany of defects, including that a self-driving Tesla will run down a child sized mannequin crossing the road, blow past a stop sign at 35mph, overtake stopped school buses displaying their warnings, ignore ‘Do Not Enter’ and ‘Road Closed’ signs and run over a stroller in its path.   NHTSA’s statistics show the true extent of the threat that Tesla’s self-driving software poses to other drivers, pedestrians and cyclists. Since June 2021, Tesla’s self-driving systems have been active in 840 accidents. For context, Honda, the manufacturer with the second highest number of crashes, reported 108 during this period. Despite this, Tesla has been allowed to deploy this software on every road in the US, and has shipped its self-driving technology to over a million customers.

In 2022, we presented our findings to NHTSA’s senior leadership, urging them to thoroughly investigate Full Self-Driving and providing them with all the information needed to methodically recreate our tests. I met with Senator Richard Blumenthal, where we discussed the flagrant risks of Tesla’s self-driving systems. I have also met in person with many members of the Energy and Commerce and Transportation and Infrastructure Committees.  Despite multiple investigations into Tesla’s self-driving technology and a recall of Tesla’s Full Self-Driving software, NHTSA has taken no action to remove this threat from our roads, which is why I implore you to ensure that legislative measures are taken to address this deadly safety risk.   

I implore you to ensure that legislation regarding autonomous vehicles puts the safety of Americans first and foremost. Unlike other self-driving manufacturers such as Waymo and Cruise, who test their vehicles in carefully mapped and geofenced environments, Tesla has recklessly deployed their self-driving technology to “anyone in North America”, per Elon Musk. We must not stand by while self-driving Teslas continue to claim lives on our roads and threaten our national security. We cannot jeopardize the safety of ordinary Americans any longer – Tesla’s self-driving systems must be taken off our roads until they are conclusively proven to be safe.”

Dan O’Dowd’s public letter was written on 25 July 2023, and addressed to Chairwoman Rodgers, Ranking Member Pallone, Chairman Bilirakis and Ranking Member Schakowsky. A full copy of the letter can be found here.