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Did Strickland Put Tesla in NHTSA’s Crosshairs before His Resignation?

by Roger Lanctot | Jan 06, 2014

NHTSA Administrator David Strickland may have the last word on investigations of Tesla, but it has nothing to do with cars catching fire. The word on the street is that prior to his formal resignation and departure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) three weeks ago, Strickland initiated a preliminary investigation regarding Tesla’s lack of cooperation regarding NHTSA’s revised driver distraction guidelines.

(Neither Strickland nor NHTSA representatives were available for comment.)

The revised NHTSA guidelines govern everything from the display of images and text, to moving map images, scrolling lists and manual text entry. The Tesla Model S allows drivers to freely browse the Internet, scroll lists, manually enter information and view Web pages while driving – all on the vehicle’s 17” touch display.

Tesla’s Model S not only aced an evaluation by Consumer Reports and a safety assessment by NHTSA, it was found to be the most usable system yet tested by Strategy Analytics. Nevertheless, the infotainment system in the car fails to adhere to most of NHTSA’s recommended guidelines.

NHTSA has taken a voluntary approach to its driver distraction guidelines in the hopes of having a more immediate impact on the automotive industry. The objective is to provide immediately useful guidance without proceeding to lengthy, expensive and usually contentious rule-making – which normally leads to mandated limitations or requirements.

Tesla may get a pass for its recent car fires, especially after having taken measures to mitigate what might have contributed to those incidents, but Tesla is not likely to get away with whistling past the driver distraction nannies at NHTSA. Strickland was former Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood’s driver distraction consigliere. It looks like the former administrator was none too pleased with Tesla’s shirking of NHTSA’s distraction priorities.

Strickland will be attending CES this week and may have more to say on this subject. Suffice it to say that if Tesla does not fall into line the upstart EV maker may ruin the party for the entire industry – drawing NHTSA into the HMI space. Please, Elon, listen to the bureaucrats. Nobody wants NHTSA in the backseat dictating user interface specifications.

Click here for more on the impact of NHTSA’s revised driver distraction guidelines.

Click here for more on driver distraction research and legislation.

 

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