Tesla chief Elon Musk reserves his Twitter account to stoke the flames of public sentiment, and his latest endorsement in 140 characters or less was for the implicit endorsement of Autopilot by a top federal regulator.
Speaking at a conference in Detroit on Friday, Mark Rosekind, administrator of the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA), nearly sided with Musk’s sentiment that its semi-autonomous system’s benefits could outweigh potential drawbacks.
“We lost 35,200 lives on our roads last year. We are in a bad place. This is a bad situation, and we should be desperate for new tools that will help us save lives,” Rosekind said after noting an 8-percent increase in U.S. traffic fatalities last year.
“If we wait for perfect, we’ll be waiting for a very, very long time. How many lives might we be losing while we wait? Ones that could otherwise be saved by a thoughtful but determined approach to bring lifesaving technologies to the road.”
NHTSA is otherwise still investigating incidents involving crashes by Tesla vehicles in which Autopilot was in use, and the court of public opinion has weighed in from a variety of perspectives for or against Autopilot.
Musk has repeatedly said Autopilot’s safety record is proving better than cars whose drivers are not so controlled.
“I should add a note here to explain why Tesla is deploying partial autonomy now, rather than waiting until some point in the future,” wrote Musk in a blog post. “The most important reason is that, when used correctly, it is already significantly safer than a person driving by themselves and it would therefore be morally reprehensible to delay release simply for fear of bad press or some mercantile calculation of legal liability.”