Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg on autonomous driving technology: Drivers must still pay attention

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg is closely watching the electric vehicle space and current leader Tesla, especially as it pertains to the latter's controversial autonomous driving features that have reportedly played a part in various crashes.

"Anytime we have a report of a safety issue, that is taken very seriously at the federal level and by the NHTSA [National Highway Traffic Safety Administration] within my department. And that is true in terms of requesting and requiring information from automakers," Buttigieg said on Yahoo Finance Live. "And we also have a means to get information from individual drivers who have had issues. We have got to make sure these technologies as they roll out are safe. And we have to have clear communications with drivers that no matter how sophisticated or smart your car is, any car you are acquiring on a market today in the U.S. requires that you are behind the wheel and paying attention."

This image provided by the National Transportation Safety Board shows damage to a 2021 Tesla Model 3 Long Range Dual Motor electric car following a crash in September, 2021, in Coral Gables, Fla. The Tesla driver who died with a passenger in a fiery September crash near Miami accelerated to 90 mph (145 kph) in the seconds before he lost control and smashed into trees, federal investigators said in a preliminary report released Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021. (NTSB via AP)

Buttigieg's commentary comes as the NHTSA has hired Missy Cummings as a senior advisor. The Duke University electrical and computer science professor has been critical of Tesla's autonomous driving features in the past on Twitter. Cummings' Twitter account has recently been deleted.


Musk, on the other hand, has been a frequent critic of Cummings and the NHTSA on Twitter.

"Objectively, her track record is extremely biased against Tesla," Musk said in an Oct. 19 tweet on the hiring of Cummings.

Buttigieg reportedly told journalists several weeks ago Musk is open to call him to address any concerns.

Recall, that the NHTSA opened a formal safety probe into Tesla's autopilot driving system back in August. The probe hones in on 765,000 U.S. Tesla vehicles following several crashes with the EV maker's cars and emergency vehicles.

Added Buttigieg, "There is tremendous upside potential with autonomous driving and driver assistance. Look, we just got some tough numbers for roadway deaths in this country — more than 30,000 people a year losing their lives. So the status quo is clearly unacceptable. To put it bluntly, human drivers don't have the best track record. But it's not automatic that computer systems are going to do better unless we have the right kind of regulation and the absolute highest expectations. That's what our department is going to be focused on, and we will hold companies to a very high standard."

Brian Sozzi is an editor-at-large and anchor at Yahoo Finance. Follow Sozzi on Twitter @BrianSozzi and on LinkedIn.

Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flipboard, LinkedIn, and YouTube