NHTSA Hires Tesla (TSLA) Autopilot Critic as Safety Advisor; Musk Claims Bias

October 22, 2021 1:54 PM EDT

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Tuesday that they hired Missy Cummings as a senior safety advisor. Cummings is a former Navy fighter pilot, Duke University professor, and has been a vocal critic of Tesla’s (NASDAQ: TSLA) Autopilot software. Tesla CEO, Elon Musk weighed in on the appointment via Twitter following the announcement.

“Objectively, her track record is extremely biased against Tesla," Musk tweeted.

Cummings has spoken publicly about her opinions surrounding autopilot software. In a podcast interview last month, she talked about watching a fellow pilot crash and die because of what she calls “mode confusion,” or confusion between the computer and the human about what’s going on.

“We’ve known about this for a long time in aviation, but this is new learning for the automotive world,” Cummings said in the podcast. “We see this when people think that Autopilot and Full Self-Driving actually mean those things, and people climb in the backseat or take their hands off the steering wheel and don’t realize the trouble they’re in, and the car crashes.”

“It's difficult to believe that it’s a coincidence NHTSA asked for detailed information on vehicle automation deployment and crashes from both Tesla and other companies, and then hired Missy,’’ said Phil Koopman, who studies AV safety at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “I’d expect her to play a role in using that data to determine what safety issues, if any, need to be resolved in vehicles with Level 2 and higher automation features.”

Reports show that Musk may have been suspicious of Cummings before her appointment to the NHTSA. An email from March 2019 reveals that Tesla’s lawyers did not want Cummings to see company documents related to Autopilot, citing concerns over her connection with a competitor.

By Michael Elkins | [email protected]

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