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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

There's mounting evidence that people put too much trust in driver-assistance features like Tesla Autopilot, but federal regulators aren't doing enough to ensure the systems are deployed safely, experts say.

Why it matters: Nearly 37,000 Americans die each year in highway accidents. As automated features become more common, the roads could get more dangerous — not safer — if drivers use the technology in unintended ways.

Driving the news: The National Transportation Safety Board this week slammed Tesla and the federal government for failing to prevent "foreseeable abuse" of its Autopilot technology, which it found contributed to a fatal accident in California in 2018.

  • The driver, an Apple engineer, was using a video game on his phone when his Tesla Model X, operating on Autopilot, steered itself into a highway barrier at 71 miles per hour, the NTSB investigation concluded.
  • It was another example of a distracted Tesla driver being killed while using Autopilot, although NTSB members emphasized that drivers in any car equipped with similar technology could become complacent or distracted.

The agency issued nine safety recommendations, including the installation of driver monitoring systems as well as lock-out devices to prevent the use of cell phones while driving. And it said companies like Apple should adopt policies to prevent distracted driving by employees.

But its harshest criticism was reserved for Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

  • NTSB criticized Tesla for not restricting where Autopilot can be used, despite its known limitations, and said the company should evaluate the system to determine if it poses an "unreasonable risk to safety."
  • The agency also called NHTSA's hands-off regulatory approach to driver-assistance technology "misguided" because the government is waiting for problems to occur rather than addressing safety issues proactively.

Yes, but: NTSB is an independent federal agency, with no enforcement powers. Tesla and NHTSA have ignored its recommendations in the past.

What they're saying: NHTSA issued a statement saying it would "carefully review" the NTSB findings, but noted that states hold drivers responsible for vehicle operations.

  • "If NHTSA doesn’t want to get its hands around this, we’re only going to see more problems," said Jason Levine, executive director of the Center for Auto Safety, who called NHTSA's lack of leadership "the real villain" in this story.

The bottom line, from NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt:

“There is not a vehicle currently available to US consumers that is self-driving. Period. Every vehicle sold to US consumers still requires the driver to be actively engaged in the driving task, even when advanced driver assistance systems are activated."

Go deeper: Tesla safety probes bring scrutiny for regulators too

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Congress passes $2.1B Capitol security funding bill

U.S. Capitol police officers testify during a House select committee hearing on the Jan. 6 Capitol riot on July 27. Photo: Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via Xinhua

A $2.1 billion Capitol security funding bill is heading to President Biden for his signature after the House and Senate passed the legislation on Thursday.

Why it matters: The legislation provides funding for the Capitol Police, the National Guard and other agencies to cover the costs incurred during the Jan. 6 riot.

Biden details new vaccination initiatives as COVID cases surge

Joe Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

President Biden detailed several new initiatives on Thursday to get more Americans vaccinated and slow the spread of the Delta variant.

Why it matters: The plan outlines aggressive next steps from the federal government as COVID-19 cases surge across the country due to the contagious Delta variant and as demand for vaccines has tapered off.

Ex-Cardinal McCarrick charged with sexually assaulting teen in 1970s

Theodore McCarrick in 2015. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who was defrocked in 2019, has been charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy in the 1970s, AP reports.

Why it matters: McCarrick is the first cardinal in the U.S. to "ever be criminally charged with a sexual crime against a minor," AP notes, citing Mitchell Garabedian, a lawyer for the man allegedly abused by McCarrick.