But President Joe Biden’s administration appears to want to change that, with the appointment of Missy Cummings, a Duke University engineering professor who studies autonomous systems and has been critical of Tesla and the federal government’s handling of driver-assist systems like Autopilot. Cummings will be a senior advisor for safety at the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Tesla’s fanbase also criticized Cummings for her ties to the Swedish driver-assist company Veoneer. Cummings sits on the company’s board of directors.
NHTSA did not make Cummings available for an interview, but spokesperson Lucia Sanchez told CNN Business that any possible conflict of interest would be resolved before Cummings starts her work at NHTSA.
From pioneering pilot to professor
In the 1990s, Cummings became one of the first women to be a pilot in the Navy. She’s said in interviews that she later entered academia because she saw the coming tide of autonomous technologies.
Outside of autonomous driving, Cummings appears to have a favorable view of Tesla. Cummings has said that she has a Tesla jacket she wears proudly, that she loves Tesla and can’t stand car dealerships. (Tesla, unlike virtually all other automakers in the United States, doesn’t have a traditional, franchised dealership network, but owns its own retail locations)
Tesla released its “full self-driving” software to about 1,000 people this month. The company has said it plans to release it more broadly soon. Some drivers have raved about its abilities while others have criticized its shortcomings. Drivers have at times had to intervene to prevent crashes or stop the car from running red lights and nearly hitting pedestrians, according to videos published on YouTube that CNN Business reviewed.