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Senate Democrats ask regulator to look into driver-assist systems after deadly Tesla crash

Senate Democrats ask regulator to look into driver-assist systems after deadly Tesla crash
© Greg Nash

Two Senate Democrats wrote to a pair of federal agencies this week urging them to come up with recommendations for improving self-driving automobile software following a fatal crash involving a Tesla in Texas.

Sens. Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyRon Johnson calls cyber attacks an 'existential' threat following Colonial Pipeline shutdown Senators ask airlines to offer cash refunds for unused flight credits Civilian Climate Corps can help stem rural-urban divide MORE (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) wrote in a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the National Transportation Safety Board that the agencies should develop "recommendations for how automated driving and driving assistance systems like Tesla’s Autopilot can be improved," and warned that fatal crashes involving self-driving car software are becoming a "pattern."

“While automated driving and driver assistance systems — like the Autopilot feature on Tesla cars — can help prevent injurious and fatal accidents, they must be implemented strategically and safely,” reads the letter, obtained by The Hill.

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“The most recent Tesla crash is the latest in a rash of accidents — the 28th — that NHTSA is investigating involving a Tesla car. We fear safety concerns involving these vehicles are becoming a pattern, which is incredibly worrisome and deserves your undivided attention," it continues.

Their letter referred to a fatal crash that occurred over the weekend in Texas involving a Tesla that struck a tree after failing to make a turn; investigators have said that initial evidence indicates that no one was behind the wheel at the time of the crash, while Tesla CEO Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskMusk's SpaceX has a competitive advantage over Bezos' Blue Origin Elon Musk: Bitcoin energy use 'insane' Elon Musk says Teslas can no longer be purchased with Bitcoin MORE has claimed that the car involved did not have the brand's signature self-driving feature.

Two people died in the crash, and the car's electric battery ignited, forcing firefighters to use tens of thousands of gallons of water over several hours to extinguish it.

"Data logs recovered so far show Autopilot was not enabled & this car did not purchase [full self-driving]," Musk tweeted. "Moreover, standard Autopilot would require lane lines to turn on, which this street did not have."

Despite the self-driving feature's name, "Autopilot," the company stresses that the optional feature is not a fully self-driving mode, and still requires human oversight as autonomous vehicles are not yet legal for commercial use on U.S. roads.

"All new Tesla cars have the hardware needed in the future for full self-driving in almost all circumstances. The system is designed to be able to conduct short and long distance trips with no action required by the person in the driver’s seat," Tesla says on its website.