The head of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration indicated Friday that regulators won’t look to slow the pace of the introduction of self-driving technology in the wake of a high-profile fatality connected to Tesla Motors Inc.’s Autopilot technology.
Mark Rosekind, speaking at a conference in Detroit, said the auto industry “cannot wait for perfect” when it comes to how quickly it deploys technology that makes cars safer. Tesla’s Autopilot technology has been criticized because it had a number of vulnerabilities when it was released, potentially leading drivers to put too much faith in that technology’s ability to work flawlessly.
Tesla has said Autopilot is a proven lifesaving feature and that the company worked to inform drivers of Autopilot’s shortcomings since launching it in 2015. Other auto makers, including General Motors Co. GM 0.58 % , have held back similar technology because of concerns over the ability to validate it.
Mr. Rosekind declined to address the Tesla fatality directly because NHTSA is investigating the incident, which happened in May. He said the agency’s main objective is to reduce traffic fatalities, which equaled 35,000 in 2015, an increase of 8% compared with 2014.
“We should be desperate for anything we can find to save people’s lives,” Mr. Rosekind said. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk has said his company would have been negligent to have withheld its Autopilot system—which can steer, brake and accelerate autonomously under certain conditions—from the cars it sells.
The auto industry and tech giants, including Alphabet Inc., GOOGL 0.27 % are racing to perfect autonomous vehicles that take the driver— and errors attributed to humans—out of the equation. While mass-market adoption is still several years away, according to most companies, these types of vehicles are being increasingly tested on public roads.
Meanwhile, light vehicles in various price ranges are adding increasing amounts of technology that assists drivers.