Tesla under investigation over whether recall of 2m vehicles went far enough to address autopilot safety concerns

Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving autopilot

Amelia Neath
Friday 26 April 2024 19:57 BST
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Tesla That Killed Washington Motorcyclist May Have Been On Autopilot

The US government’s traffic safety agency has launched an investigation into whether last year’s recall of Tesla’s Autopilot driving system feature went far enough, with the probe announcement coming days after a motorcyclist was killed in a collision with a Tesla potentially using the Autopilot system.

Tesla has reported 20 more crashes involving Autopilot since it recalled more than 2 million vehicles last year over concerns of the feature making sure drivers paid attention, The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said in documents posted on its website Friday.

The recent crashes and tests by the agency have now doubled down concerns on whether the recall remedied the Autopilot’s driver monitoring system.

The December recall, involving nearly all the vehicles that Tesla had sold at the time, was implemented to ensure the effectiveness of the system that is supposed to ensure drivers have their hands on the wheel while using Autopilot.

Despite the name, Autopilot is not fully autonomous. Tesla says on its website that Autopilot is intended “for use with a fully attentive driver, who has their hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment.”

The NHTSA called on the company to make the recall after a two-year investigation into the sufficiency of Tesla’s Autopilot’s driver monitoring system, which measures torque on the steering wheel from a driver’s hands and sends an alert if drivers fails to do so.

Tesla is under investigation once more by US government over whether recall to fix an autopilot feature went far enough
Tesla is under investigation once more by US government over whether recall to fix an autopilot feature went far enough (Getty Images)

“Tesla’s weak driver engagement system was not appropriate for Autopilot’s permissive operating capabilities,” the NHTSA wrote after concluding their two-year investigation.

The agency investigated multiple cases as part of their probe, in which they found Teslas on Autopilot had run into parked emergency vehicles, among other incidents.

While a fix was implemented by Tesla via a software update to increase warnings to drivers to keep their hands on the wheel, the agency said in Friday’s documents that crashes have still occurred after the fix.

Now, the NHTSA said it would evaluate the adequacy of the recall, including the “prominence and scope” of Autopilot’s controls to address misuse, mode confusion and use of the feature in environments it’s not designed for.

It also said that Tesla has stated that parts of the recall remedy requires the vehicle’s owner to opt in, as well as allowing drivers to reverse portions of it too.

NHTSA began its Autopilot crash investigation in 2021, and said in its concluding documents that they ultimately found 467 crashes involving Autopilot, resulting in 54 injuries and 14 deaths.

The investigation comes just one week after a Tesla that may have been operating on Autopilot collided with motorcyclist near Seattle.

The motorcyclist, 28-year-old Jeffrey Nissen, was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities reported.

The 56-year-old driver of the 2022 Tesla Model S told a Washington State Patrol trooper that he was using Autopilot and looked at his mobile while the Tesla on the move.

“The next thing he knew, there was a bang, and the vehicle lurched forward as it accelerated and collided with the motorcycle in front of him,” the trooper wrote in a probable-cause document.

The affidavit stated that the driver was arrested for investigation of vehicular homicide “based on the admitted inattention to driving, while on Autopilot mode, and the distraction of the cell phone while moving forward, putting trust in the machine to drive for him,” the affidavit said.

Washington State Patrol Captain Deion Glover told The Independent that they are “still early in the investigation” and is yet to establish whether Autopilot was on at the time. They can also not confirm yet if the driver was distracted during the collision.

The Independent has contacted Tesla for comment.

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