U.S. Launches a Formal Safety Investigation of 765,000 Tesla Cars
Oct 14, 2021 · 3 min read
Safety concerns about Tesla's Autopilot system have led to an investigation of 765,000 vehicles in the U.S. This announcement follows the June recall of 285,000 Model Y and Model 3 vehicles in China for potential cruise control related acceleration issues, according to Car and Driver.
These are not the first instances of such concerns for Tesla. For example, Reuters reported that in 2017, the automaker faced similar concerns regarding their Autopilot technology. Controversially, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) did not introduce any updated safety measures as a result.
Now, the NHTSA will take a renewed look into the driver assistance tech before determining next steps, which could potentially include a massive recall.
NHTSA opens a formal safety probe into Tesla
The NHTSA has launched a preliminary investigation of Tesla Autopilot systems.
They will look into 11 incidents in nine states involving Tesla Model 3, Y, S, and X EVs built between 2014 and 2021, even though there have been other Tesla crashes in which driver assistance technology is thought to have played a part.
One death and 17 injuries are linked to these 11 incidents that took place between 2018 and 2021. In each of these crashes, Traffic-Aware Cruise Control or Autopilot were activated.
Part of the reason these particular crashes were selected for the probe is because they all involved situations where the EVs crashed into first responder vehicles like ambulances and fire trucks, or other vehicles on emergency scenes.
These crashes occurred at night, for the most part, and in settings involving cones, emergency vehicle lights, and flares in the vicinity.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stated on social media that there will be updates to the camera capabilities of the driver assistance system to include screening for various flashing light sources and hand signals.
Tesla Autopilot at the center of investigations
Autopilot, including Traffic-Aware Cruise Control (which aligns vehicle speed with traffic speed, according to Tesla’s website) will be the primary focus in the NHTSA's probe. Reuters quotes the NHTSA’s intention to investigate how the driver assistance technology works to "‘monitor, assist, and enforce the driver's engagement’ with driving" when the Autopilot system is in use.
It is important to note that Tesla indicates that its Autopilot feature is not an actual self-driving vehicle technology but an advanced driver assistance system. This is in accordance with the NHTSA’s mandate (reported by PBS) that "a human driver should be in control at all times, and all state laws hold human drivers responsible for operation of their vehicles."
With this proviso, can blame really be fully assigned to the advanced driver assistance system? This is what the NHTSA is tasked with finding out.
Tesla advises drivers to always have their eyes on the road and hands on the controls when using the Autopilot feature. However, Tesla's online community is filled with individuals showing off how the company's EVs can "drive themselves," making Tesla synonymous with "self-driving cars" when their vehicles, in fact, should not be operated under this assumption.
NTSB criticizes Tesla
Reuters explains that the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has previously criticized Tesla and the NHTSA for their lack of action in the Autopilot safety issues. Tesla for not implementing proper safety precautions for the system, and the NHTSA for their overall "failure to ensure the safety of Autopilot."
Having encouraged the NHTSA to create safety standards and regulations for drive monitoring systems, the NTSB chair, Jennifer Homendy, has announced the board’s support for the NHTSA's new probe.