The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is seeking updated information and current data from Tesla regarding an ongoing investigation into 830,000 Tesla vehicles and the company’s Autopilot system. The agency sent a letter to Tesla on July 3, requesting updates to questions previously asked in August 2022 and demanding responses by July 19. However, Tesla has not yet provided a comment on the matter.
The investigation revolves around the performance of Tesla’s Autopilot system, particularly in cases where Tesla vehicles have collided with stationary emergency vehicles. The NHTSA is also examining whether Tesla’s vehicles adequately ensure driver attention while using the driver assistance system.
Autopilot is designed to allow cars to autonomously steer, accelerate, and brake within their lane, while the enhanced Autopilot feature can assist in lane changes on highways. It’s important to note that Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Capability Features do not make the vehicles fully autonomous, although they enable the vehicles to obey traffic signals and stop signs.
The NHTSA has expressed concerns about the effectiveness of Tesla’s alert strategy, which aims to ensure driver attention. In previous incidents, it was found that nine out of eleven vehicles involved in crashes showed no signs of driver engagement or received any visual or auditory alerts until just moments before a collision occurred. Four vehicles didn’t receive any visual or auditory alerts during the entire Autopilot use cycle leading up to the crash.
The NHTSA’s letter to Tesla specifically requests updates on any changes the company has made to enhance driver engagement or attentiveness. It also seeks information on the presence of “Tesla Vision” in vehicles, which refers to the use of cameras rather than radar, as well as the inclusion of cabin camera systems.
In June 2022, the NHTSA escalated the investigation from an initial inquiry, which was opened in August 2021, to an engineering analysis. This step is necessary before the agency can potentially demand a recall.
It’s worth noting that the NHTSA has initiated 40 special crash investigations involving Tesla since 2016, where Autopilot and other driver assistance systems were suspected to have been in use. Among these investigations, there have been reports of 20 crash-related deaths.
In May, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressed genuine concerns about the interaction between Tesla’s Autopilot system and drivers, highlighting the need for thorough investigation and understanding of the technology’s impact on road safety.