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Tesla urged to brief Senate committee on fatal Autopilot crash

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Musk has until July 29th to reply

Investigation Continues Into Tesla Driver's Death While In Autopilot Mode Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

The crash that killed a Tesla Model S driver with Autopilot activated is already being investigated by the federal government, but now the Senate is seeking more information about the details of the accident. Senator John Thune (R-SD), who chairs the Commerce Committee, sent a letter to Elon Musk Thursday, requesting the Tesla CEO brief his committee on the company’s response to the crash.

Thune writes that he is particularly interested in “the company’s efforts to ensure the Autopilot technology was deployed safely in this instance,” as well as “Tesla’s work to educate customers on the use, benefits, and limitations of the technology.” Musk has until July 29th to reply.

The accident occurred May 7th in Williston, Florida with 40-year-old Ohio resident Joshua Brown driving. Tesla revealed that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was investigating the crash in a June 30th blog post.

Thune, as well as other elected officials, has been broadly supportive of self-driving technology, which he notes in his letter. “Technological advancements have the potential to reduce that number significantly,” he writes. “Therefore, it is essential to use lessons learned from this incident to improve safety technologies, ensure they perform as advertised, and make certain that consumers are properly educated about their use.”

Thune calls for more research on “the interactions between the operator and vehicle at different levels of autonomy to ensure consumers are able to respond to the technology appropriately.”

Meanwhile, NHTSA is expected to release its guidance and model state policy for the regulation of the self-driving cars very soon, possibly during Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx’s address at next week’s Automated Vehicle Symposium in San Francisco. The agency says that the fatal Autopilot crash won’t delay the process, but acknowledging it puts a new light on the forthcoming rules. Critics of autonomous cars have called for regulators to delay the release of the new rules in the aftermath of the crash.