Tech CEO Runs for Senate on One Issue: Ban Tesla’s FSD Technology

  • Dan O’Dowd is running for Senate on a platform based solely on getting Tesla FSD cars off the road.
  • The executive launched an advertising campaign featuring videos of Tesla turning into traffic.
  • Elon Musk said the FSD will be safer than human driving by the end of the year.

California technology executive Dan O’Dowd is running for the US Senate on one issue and one issue only – banning Tesla’s self-driving vehicles.

O’Dowd launched a multimillion-dollar ad campaign this week that targeted Tesla’s Full Self-Driving (FSD) software, which the self-styled billionaire called “absolutely terrible.” The ad, a compilation of videos showing the software going wrong, will run in four major media markets in 36 states, a source told Politico.

“[Autonomous driving software] it’s probably the most important software out there,” O’Dowd told Insider. “Billions of lives will depend on this software to keep it from breaking daily. It should be the best software ever written, but it isn’t.”

Tesla did not respond to an Insider’s request for comment, but Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the FSD will be safer than human driving by the end of the year.

O’Dowd is the CEO of Green Hills Software, a company that builds operating systems and programming tools for embedded systems. While the executive told Insider that his company does not make autonomous driving software and has no financial interest in Tesla’s FSD, Green Hills has built technology for driving systems, including driver assistance software for the BMW iX.

‘I want to take the issue to the people’

According to O’Dowd, his Senate candidacy is an attempt to hold Musk accountable and completely abolish Tesla’s use of the FSD. The technology is controversial among critics, who say its name is misleading and that the feature is dangerous for passengers and pedestrians.

Insider previously reported on YouTube videos of Tesla drivers showing the software that allows cars to morph into traffic and struggle to accommodate pedestrians and road construction.

O’Dowd said he felt inspired to take action after seeing these videos. In January, he ran a full-page ad in The New York Times announcing the launch of The Dawn Project, a campaign to ban insecure software from security systems.

In the ad, he accused Musk of using FSD drivers as “crash test dummies”.

O’Dowd told Insider that people have intrinsic faith in the government to stop unsafe products from hitting the market, but are being let down because “Tesla skates through regulations.”

“I want to take the issue to people,” O’Dowd told Insider. “I want politicians to see that there is an issue here that gets votes.”

O’Dowd said The Dawn Project analyzed video footage of the FSD in action and found that the software ticks every eight minutes.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk steps out of the new Tesla Model X during an event to launch the company's new crossover SUV on September 29, 2015 in Fremont, California.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk steps out of the new Tesla Model X during an event to launch the company’s new crossover SUV on September 29, 2015 in Fremont, California.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The controversy behind FSD vehicles

While the FSD claims to be fully autonomous, in reality it operates as an optional add-on that allows Teslas to automatically change lanes, enter and exit highways, recognize stop signs and traffic lights, and park.

The product, which is in beta mode, can be purchased as an additional $12,000 subscription or a $199 monthly subscription and requires a licensed driver to monitor it at all times. The software has around 100,000 subscribers that Tesla can use to test the software in real time and allow the system’s AI to learn from experienced drivers.

Since the FSD was launched in 2014, the company has managed to avoid reporting data like shutdowns and accidents to the Department of Motor Vehicles. This is because the system is classified as a tier two driver assistance system, unlike standalone competitors like Alphabet’s Waymo, which are subject to different reporting standards as drivers are not required to monitor vehicles.

According to O’Dowd, there was not enough enforcement to regulate the FSD and prevent possible accidents, as seen in the YouTube videos.

“The worst part is that the people posting these videos are fanboys,” O’Dowd told Insider. “There are all these videos of the software making these critical mistakes, doing terrible things, and these people just ignore it because they love Tesla.”

The CEO’s candidacy for the Senate could derail the candidacy of Alex Padilla, the junior senator nominee from California. While it’s unclear whether O’Dowd is using his candidacy just to draw attention to the issue — as being on the ballot allows a higher degree of First Amendment protection for his statements about Tesla — he told Politico he would back out if the FSD was taken off the road for an extended period of time.

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