- NHTSA upgrades first of two investigations of driving system
- Agency looking into if Tesla system exacerbates safety risks
By Keith Laing and Craig Trudell
June 9, 2022
US authorities escalated an investigation into whether Tesla Inc.’s Autopilot is defective and revealed they’ve reviewed almost 200 crashes involving vehicles using the driver-assistance technology.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced Thursday its preliminary evaluation of how Tesla Autopilot handles crash scenes with first-responder vehicles warrants further review and upgraded the probe. Since opening the inquiry almost 10 months ago, NHTSA has reviewed a much broader set of collisions beyond Teslas running into fire trucks and police cars.
The agency has sifted through the circumstances of 191 crashes involving Tesla vehicles operating some version of Autopilot. In roughly 50 cases, NHTSA found drivers were insufficiently responsive to the driving task. In approximately two-dozen other incidents, the agency said the primary factor appears to be drivers using the system in environments and conditions where the technology runs up against limitations, such as off highways or in inclement weather.
The risk for Tesla extends beyond the potential for NHTSA to ultimately conclude a defect does exist. The regulator has the power to order recalls, and its investigation could lead Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk to come up with better safeguards against driver inattentiveness or ways to restrict Autopilot from being used in situations it can’t handle safely.
“NHTSA appears to be increasingly closer to taking firm action against Tesla, which will hopefully be strong enough to permanently dissuade the company from continuing to mislead the public about the capabilities of its vehicles,” Michael Brooks, acting executive director and chief counsel of the Center for Auto Safety, said in an email.