— The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been sued for allegedly ignoring a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed by a research company that wants to know details about Tesla's Autopilot system.
Plaintiff Quality Control Systems Corp. (QCS), based in Maryland, says it concentrates in "computer-intensive, statistical research with large databases," and wants to know more about the data used to investigate the Tesla Model S and Model X.
Safety regulators took a look at Tesla's Autopilot system in 2016 after a crash that killed former Navy SEAL Joshua Brown. Mr. Brown was driving his Model S with Autopilot engaged when the car slammed into a tractor-trailer, killing Brown on a Florida highway.
NHTSA eventually closed its investigation and claimed the data showed Autosteer, a function of the Autopilot system, reduced airbag deployments and crash rates.
QCS says it sent a FOIA request to NHTSA in February 2017 to obtain crash data allegedly withheld from the public by the government. According to the lawsuit, scientific researchers need the data to "assess the validity of the remarkable claim made by NHTSA that airbag deployments in Tesla vehicles dropped by almost 40 percent after the installation of a component of the Tesla's Autopilot system, Autosteer."
QCS says the documents specifically say that NHTSA calculated airbag deployment crashes in the Tesla vehicles before and after Autosteer was installed and found the reduction in crash rates. However, QCS says it is concerned the alleged reduction in crash rates is associated with the "installation" of Autosteer, rather than the actual use of Autosteer.
QCS wants to know if NHTSA used scientific methods to validate the tests and if the results can be replicated. In addition, the company wants to know if the alleged reduction in crash rates is due to Autosteer itself and if the decreased crash rates are expected to continue.
"The surprising claim by NHTSA of an extraordinary reduction in crash rates associated with the installation of Autosteer must be carefully considered in the context of the Agency's failure to allow public access to the underlying data. Such an important conclusion by the Agency should not be based on data that the government is withholding from researchers who want to examine NHTSA's results." - Quality Control Systems
In March 2017, NHTSA responded to QCS by saying the agency was issuing “an interim response to your FOIA request dated February 24, 2017," and was “extending by ten working days the time period by which the agency must provide a response.”
Further, NHTSA said it needed additional time "to search for and collect the requested records from field facilities or other establishments that are separate from the office processing the request.” Finally, the letter stated that NHTSA expected to provide a response by April 14, 2017.
However, QCS says that communication was the last it heard from NHTSA.
The Quality Control Systems Freedom of Information Act request lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia - Quality Control Systems Corp. v. U.S. Department of Transportation.