In January, in what was interpreted as a victory for Tesla, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s report on the accident said that the company’s Autopilot-enabled vehicles did not need to be recalled. That inquiry, however, focused only on the question of whether any flaws in the system had led to the crash; it found no such flaws.
The renewed attention to the Tesla system came as automakers are jockeying to push driverless technologies forward, while lawmakers and regulators scramble to keep pace, with the Trump administration putting forward its approach on Tuesday.
The Transportation Department unveiled voluntary guidelines for testing autonomous vehicles on Tuesday as part of a broader government effort to encourage automakers’ development of self-driving technology.
The department announced the initiative as Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao visited a testing center for self-driving vehicles in Ann Arbor, Mich.
The proposal establishes a voluntary framework of safety guidelines for companies to test autonomous vehicles on public roads. The approach also aims to clarify the role that state governments play in regulating the technology, including the enforcement of traffic laws and vehicle insurance requirements.
Separately, lawmakers in Washington have been moving toward enacting federal legislation covering self-driving vehicles.
Last week, the House approved a bill that would allow automakers to deploy hundreds of thousands of autonomous vehicles on American roads over the next few years. A similar bill is being drafted in the Senate and will most likely be introduced soon.
In addition to Tesla’s efforts, the competition to develop self-driving cars has become fierce among auto industry giants such as General Motors and Ford Motor, as well as technology companies including Google and Apple.
The companies have been accelerating their testing of self-driving cars, and have backed legislation exempting autonomous vehicles from current motor vehicle laws.
Some safety campaigners and consumer groups have been critical of the move toward voluntary rules covering self-driving technology, and have questioned whether autonomous vehicles are ready for wide deployment on public roads.
Automakers and government officials contend that the technology could reduce vehicle accidents and traffic fatalities — a point Tesla reiterated Tuesday after the transportation safety board issued its report on the Florida crash.
The accident killed Joshua Brown, 40, of Canton, Ohio. His 2015 Tesla Model S was operating under its Autopilot system on May 7, 2016, on state highway in Williston, Fla., when it crashed into a tractor-trailer that was crossing the road in front of him.
The system’s forward-looking camera failed to recognize the white truck against a bright sky, and neither Mr. Brown nor the Autopilot system activated the brakes. Data from the car showed it had been traveling at 74 miles per hour at the time of the crash and that Mr. Brown had ignored several warnings to keep his hands on the steering wheel. A preliminary N.T.S.B. report found that he had at least seven seconds to notice the truck before impact.
Like the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the N.T.S.B. found that the version of Autopilot in Mr. Brown’s car had performed as it had been designed to.
But Mr. Sumwalt said that version of Autopilot “gave far too much leeway to the driver to divert his attention to something other than driving.” He also said it was intended for use on limited-access highways rather than routes with cross traffic and intersections, such as the state highway Mr. Brown was traveling on.
In a statement, Tesla said it “appreciates” the N.T.S.B.’s analysis and will evaluate the agency’s recommendations. “We will also continue to be extremely clear with current and potential customers that Autopilot is not a fully self-driving technology and drivers need to remain attentive at all times,” the company said.
Since the accident, Tesla has modified Autopilot to warn drivers more frequently to keep their hands on the steering wheel. After three warnings, the system cannot be engaged without stopping and restarting the car.
Tesla has also modified how Autopilot’s radar and camera sensors interact to improve its ability to recognize obstacles. The Autopilot upgrade was rolled out a year ago.
Tesla introduced Autopilot in October 2015, to great fanfare. And for a time it seemed that Tesla was far ahead of the big, established automakers as the notion of self-driving cars caught the imagination of both the media and technology enthusiasts.
But before long, some drivers, including Mr. Brown, began to post videos on YouTube showing that it was possible to go several minutes without looking at the road or holding the wheel. Some videos show drivers reading while at the wheel; in one, a driver climbs into his car’s back seat.
Even before the fatal crash, Tesla had come under criticism for releasing Autopilot without greater safeguards to prevent improper use. And early on, the company referred to it as a beta system — a technical term for an experimental version, suggesting it was a work in progress.
Other automakers are just starting to introduce advanced driver-assistance systems of their own — with some of safeguards that Autopilot lacks. Both General Motors and Audi are offering systems in 2018 models that can pilot cars on major highways, but do not work on other roads. Both supplement their radar and camera sensors with lidar — a kind of radar based on lasers.
G.M.’s system, Supercruise, also has a tiny camera that tracks the driver’s eyes to detect if they are not focused on the road, and therefore does not require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel.
“We think Supercruise can be the only fully hands-free system for the highway,” said Johan de Nysschen, president of G.M.’s Cadillac division. Supercruise will be available in the 2018 version of the Cadillac CT6 sedan.
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