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In an era where artificial intelligence and machine learning have taken the steering wheel, autonomous vehicles stand at the acme of technological advancement. Major auto companies such as Tesla, Ford, Waymo, Cruise, and Zoox have been at the forefront of this future-forward shift; however, recent scrutiny from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) serves as a cautionary tale about the safety issues that lie along this high-speed highway to progress.

In a span of rapid expansion and competition in the autonomous vehicle sector, the NHTSA’s increased scrutiny signals a necessary pause to evaluate these vehicles' safety claims. The order that was issued in 2021 requiring companies to report crashes involving autonomous vehicles and Level 2 driver-assist systems has further intensified the spotlight on this burgeoning industry. This scrutiny isn't limited to the companies' reported data; instead, it is dynamically expanding thanks to technology in the hands of millions. Through the use of smartphones, civilian oversight has turned into a pivotal tool, capturing incidents of autonomous vehicles behaving erratically, thus providing NHTSA with additional, real-time data.

Several incidents have pushed the situation from simmering concerns to a full-throttle inquiry. NHTSA is currently investigating 22 incidents involving Waymo's driverless car system, including vehicles crashing into gates and parked cars and operating on the wrong side of the road. This has not only raised questions about Waymo's navigation systems but also the overall readiness of autonomous technologies for real-world applications.

Perhaps the most prominent figure under the microscope is Tesla, with NHTSA reopening its investigation into their Autopilot technology following its recall. This could potentially have cascading effects on the company's stock price and future prospects, marking a crucial juncture for Tesla, a pioneering entity in autonomous vehicles.

However, despite the shortcomings in the crash data provided by these companies, NHTSA has demonstrated resilience in procuring more accurate information directly from the organizations. This decisive move by NHTSA serves as a testament to the administration's steadfast commitment to ensuring safety in this new era of transportation.

In essence, in the quest for a future dominated by autonomous vehicles, adherence to safety protocols cannot be compromised. Today's investigations and rigorous inspections will help pave the path to a safer and more reliable autonomous vehicular future. It is a balancing act between fostering innovation and ensuring safety, with the weights firmly tipping towards safety at present. As we continue to traverse down this technological highway, it becomes increasingly crucial to remember that speed may determine how quickly we reach a destination, but safety will determine if we reach it at all.