The Faintest Hint Of Regulatory Accountability Has Tesla Acting Like An Adult

from the funny-how-that-works dept

Coming from telecom, I’m painfully aware of the perils of the “deregulation is a panacea” mindset. For literally thirty straight years, the idea that deregulation results in some kind of miraculous Utopia informed U.S. telecom policy, resulting in a sector that was increasingly consolidated and uncompetitive. In short, the entirety of U.S. telecom policy (with the short lived sporadic exception) has been to kowtow to regional telecom monopolies. Efforts to do absolutely anything other than that (see: net neutrality, privacy, etc.) are met with immeasurable hyperventilation and predictions of imminent doom.

So I think the U.S. telecom sector holds some valuable lessons in terms of regulatory competency and accountability. No, you don’t want regulators that are heavy-handed incompetents. And yes, sometimes deregulation can help improve already competitive markets (which telecom most certainly isn’t). At the same time, you don’t want regulators who are mindless pushovers, where companies are keenly aware they face zero repercussions for actively harming consumers, public safety, or the health of a specific market.

Enter Tesla, which is finally facing something vaguely resembling regulatory scrutiny for its bungled and falsehood-filled deployment of “full self-driving” technology. As crashes and criticism pile up, Tesla is arguably facing its first ever instance of regulatory accountability in the face of more competent government hires and an ongoing investigation into the company’s claims by the NHTSA. This all might result in no meaningful or competent regulatory action, but the fact that people aren’t sure of that fact is still a notable sea change.

This, in turn, has automatically resulted in a new tone at Tesla that more reflects a company run by actual adults:

“Tesla held a regularly scheduled conference call to discuss its quarterly financial results, but ? as he?d previously teased ? Musk did not attend. His absence took what?s normally a venue for his rants and ramblings, dismissals of Wall Street, and attacks on the press and turned it into a coherent (if scripted) presentation of the company?s recent progress.

There were fewer sideshows and a more measured tone, though the executives who spoke in Musk?s place still made some contradictions. If Musk were to leave his post atop the company, it?s likely that Tesla would look and sound a lot like how the company was presented on Wednesday night?s call.

While Musk’s bravado appeals to fans of bravado, it’s not hard to argue his behavior has also actively harmed the companies he oversees. Unless folks genuinely think securities fraud or calling basic life-saving public health measures “fascism” are genuinely productive. Tesla has now shown a profit in nine straight quarters, or 11 of the last 13. But the company now faces not only marginally more competent regulatory oversight, but a flood of well-funded competitors and increased criticism of build quality. It’s not hard to think that Musk’s mouth could, at any moment, completely sabotage efforts to take Tesla to the next level.

Still, I tend to come back to the idea of basic regulatory competency. Even if regulators aren’t going to always take action, they need to give the impression that they actively could at any moment. The threat of regulatory repercussion is sometimes as useful as regulation itself. During the Trump era (again, see telecom) and the Obama era (see: Google) the message sent was pretty clear: you can do pretty much whatever you like with little to no meaningful accountability as long as you’re moderately clever about it. That included running a sloppy open beta of 3,500 pound self-driving automobiles on public streets without public consent or much in the way of safety precautions (see: Uber’s Arizona fatality).

This free for all is likely poised to change, and it seems like Tesla might more easily navigate the coming rocky waters and sensitive legal and regulatory skirmishes with a CEO who isn’t prone toward absolute chaos. While Musk’s behavior is certainly tied to the company’s disruptive brand, it is possible to have executives who are performatively chaotic and disruptive (see: ex-T-Mobile CEO John Legere) without actively shooting the company in the foot every other time they open their mouths.

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Companies: tesla

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Comments on “The Faintest Hint Of Regulatory Accountability Has Tesla Acting Like An Adult”

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19 Comments
I''m not Sure says:

Piling on sans facts maybe?

In your article you said,

"… its bungled and falsehood-filled deployment of "full self-driving" technology. As crashes and criticism pile up, Tesla is …"

While there have certainly been "crashes and criticism", in nearly all of those cases it has been driver error (or drunk) for failing to properly use what is essentially enhanced cruise control which Tesla calls "Auto Pilot". Arguably that’s a misleading name for enhanced cruise control. However, that is NOT "full self-driving"!

"full self-driving" is a Beta release available to very few drivers. I’m not aware of any, as in ZERO, crashes attributed to "full self-driving".

The mainstream press confuses the terms and often doesn’t seem to know the difference. It’s not just semantics, cruise control is not full self driving. I expect better from Techdirt!

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Piling on sans facts maybe?

"…in nearly all of those cases it has been driver error (or drunk) for failing to properly use what is essentially enhanced cruise control which Tesla calls "Auto Pilot"."

Well, if the added bells and whistles increase the number of vehicle accidents as compared to what they would have been without those bells and whistles then occam suggests the fault can be found with those bells and whistles.

Looking at the disproportionate amount of Tesla accidents involving that "auto pilot" the data is pretty clear that in the long run this feature adds an element of risk. Although we can certainly argue that it’s because the people driving a tesla place unrealistic expectations on the systems it does not change the fact that a Tesla vehicle may run right across some kid in the streets while the driver was looking the other way, believing the smart systems can deliver performance they aren’t rated for.

Teslas blame in this is clear; although their warning labels are quite clear the functions of traffic-aware cruise control and autosteer cause risk with a complacent driver which a suitably paranoid driver running everything on manual avoids.

This is not mature technology and shouldn’t be rated for road use.

Chad says:

Is this Paid Fud?

I am curious if this is a paid hit piece or did Elon kick sand in Mr Bodes face?

You don’t have to like him, That’s fine. You do you. But much of what you stated is half true, factually incorrect, or just plain fud. Many of your assertions can be researched and clarified for truth but you didn’t bother.

I don’t come to techdirt for over the top half truths and political bloviating. If I wanted that fox news is full of it.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Is this Paid Fud?

"But much of what you stated is half true, factually incorrect, or just plain fud."

Well, there is some truth in Tesla suddenly showing a disproportionate amount of vehicle accidents…usually involving auto pilot. The issue is that Tesla is offering their technology to make driving more convenient by ostensibly removing the need for the driver to focus as hard on driving…and yet if the driver of the car relies on that convenience, risk happens.

If you add assisted steering and assisted cruise control then those will be used and the driver come to rely on them.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Is this Paid Fud?

Yes. But rely on does not mean the driver gets to ignore responsibility.

This article literally looks like it came out of CNN or Fox in how much it pushes only half the truth.

Idiot drivers are idiot drivers. Full stop.
Be interesting to see background dmv reports on if these idiot crashing auto-drive drivers had incidents in manual drive cars. I’d bet a good few have.

The same fools who read their books in a Tesla are the ones who read a book or paper in rush hour traffic and claim ignorance when they rear end someone.
‘It’s not my fault the author wrote a good book: blame the author!’
‘It’s not my fault I drank a dozen pints and fell asleep, blame Tesla!’

Seriously. There os one single place to put blame in these “accidents”! The idiot behind the wheel. Or not when they climb in the back seat.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Is this Paid Fud?

"Yes. But rely on does not mean the driver gets to ignore responsibility. "

True enough. I hold, however, that a manufacturer deliberately pushing an aspect of their product which can only be fully used by ignoring their recommendation that the driver needs to remain "fully focused" isn’t very responsible.

There’s a reason gun manufacturers usually don’t talk about how many people <product X> could reasonably kill in short time or why car manufacturers aren’t big on making the max speed of the vehicle a selling point.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Is this Paid Fud?

product which can only be fully used by ignoring their recommendation that the driver needs to remain "fully focused“

That’s just it though.
I have “adaptive cruse” on a family vehicle. And quite a few friends have it.
Wonderful little invention. But you don’t take your eyes off the road.

I can’t for the life of me figure out what makes these idiots think they’re in a sci-fi movie.
Granted: mine freaks out I’ve a leaf! Dinging and making the seat squeeze and vibrate.
But still!

JaredTheGeek says:

I agree that FSD is less than half baked currently and letting out in the public at this state without harder restrictions is not a great move imho. What I disagree with is how regulators are going after Tesla. Musk is outspoken and can be problematic but they are millions of miles ahead technologically compared to any other US automaker. Watch a Sandy Munro video, he is the expert. He demonstrates it almost daily.

Even with all the FSD crashes, which many were attributed to autopilot or FSD and turned out to be false. For the Arizona fatality, there was a driver behind the wheel who took no action and they hit and killed someone. That’s 1 in hundreds of thousands of testing. It was still statistically safer than a human driver.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Bribes, obviously

My best guess is that – despite some leeway with "campaign donations" – companies can’t put out-and-out bribes to lowly inspectors or vice presidents of other companies or their budget to send shills to delete stuff out of Wikipedia on their ordinary budget. So they give some aristocrat a fortune, and a fraction of that goes to get things done, behind the scenes, wherever Mommy and Daddy go when they lock the bedroom door.

Anonymous Coward says:

My guess is the future of full auto driving is that North Korea sets all the offices on fire with the harmonic distortion virus, and then your full auto car’s engine roars as it pilots itself directly at the nearest firetruck.

I mean seriously, what kind of idiot society makes every piece of equipment dependent on "apps" dependent on central control, makes every infrastructure vehicle dependent on central control, puts all their comms under same central control, makes all their businesses dependent on central control and an annual ransomware budget, pins its economic hopes on burning more coal so they can "mint" more Bitcoins so companies can buy them up to have them on hand for their annual ransomware budget (their shining example of an industry not under central control, so long as people do what they’re told and buy them), and all the chips and metal and tangible goods are being imported from China so fast the Chinese oligopoly can’t sell them shipping containers at less than ten times the price, but that’s all good because imports are more trustworthy, being under central control, than allowing a local farmer to sell you beef at a farmer’s market, which would be dangerous. They jail Assange under central control, hack your computer under central control, mandate Microsoft password escrow in their next "update" under central control.

And they think there is no one, NO ONE, in the whole world, not even the Chinese who never died of COVID because they at least know how to run a country … NO ONE who will say that’s a nice central control, we’ll be taking that now.

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