On July 3, 2023, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released a letter it sent to Tesla in August 2022, asking the company to provide updated answers to several questions. NHTSA is investigating the performance of Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system after identifying more than a dozen crashes in which Tesla vehicles hit stopped emergency vehicles. The agency is also investigating whether Tesla vehicles ensure drivers are paying attention when using the Autopilot system.
After a series of apparent crashes, NHTSA officially launched an investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system. And on July 3, NHTSA wrote back to Tesla, asking the automaker for updated information by July 19. As far as anyone can tell, that didn’t happen.
remembers a lot
If NHTSA decides to issue a recall, it wouldn’t be the first time. Tesla has faced a significant number of recalls over the past decade, covering issues ranging from seat belts to battery-related concerns.
For example, in December 2021, Tesla recalled 356,000 Model 3 sedans due to a wiring problem that could render the rear camera inoperable. Then, in February 2023, more than 362,000 Teslas were recalled due to problems with the full self-driving system. The recall was issued because some Teslas failed to stop when required, resulting in what is commonly called a “rolling stop.” He also mentioned the lack of respect for speed limits.
These cases highlight just some of the setbacks Tesla has experienced. While Ford currently holds the record for the most unique recalls as of 2021, Tesla appears to be on a trajectory to surpass it.
It’s important to note that the latest letter from NHTSA is not an official recall for Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot. At this stage, the deadline set by NHTSA can be seen as a preliminary step that could potentially lead to a recall if Tesla’s responses fail to meet NHTSA’s expectations.
Autopilot and Full Self-Driving are both partially automated driving systems available in Teslas. Autopilot comes standard on every Tesla, offering steering, acceleration and braking assistance. Full Self-Driving is a more advanced system that Tesla claims will eventually be able to drive someone to and from a destination without human intervention. However, Tesla states that no system is fully autonomous and that a human driver must pay attention in case it needs to intervene. Tesla has also told regulators in California that it “did not expect significant improvements” that would put more responsibility on the car and away from the human driver.
NHTSA has been investigating Tesla for several years. This particular investigation was prompted by the 736 crashes and 17 deaths that have occurred since 2019 involving Tesla’s Autopilot system. As recently as July 5, 2023, there was a fatal crash involving a 2018 Tesla Model 3 and a Subaru that resulted in two fatalities – a 17-year-old and a 3-month-old. Finally, after so many fatal crashes, NHTSA has given a deadline for Tesla to respond to these concerns. That deadline puts pressure on Tesla to address the issues raised by the investigation.
There are 830,000 Tesla vehicles with Autopilot that are affected by these issues. One of the main concerns in this investigation is the 16 collisions Teslas have had with emergency vehicles. Despite warning signals such as flashing lights, flashing lights or illuminated arrow signs, Autopilot had difficulty detecting parked emergency vehicles. Even in cases of warnings to drivers, sometimes they did not react in time, leading to tragic accidents.
The issue is twofold because Tesla is relying on drivers to pay attention while using Autopilot. There have been reports of a lack of driver engagement in Teslas, with drivers’ hands on the wheel but not enough focus on the road. As part of the investigation, NHTSA is seeking data about dash cams, as well as whether the vehicles use Tesla Vision — a system that relies only on cameras to see the road, not radar.
The July 3 letter from NHTSA to Tesla requested three pieces of information. First, it requested a list of all vehicles, by model and model year, that Tesla produced in the United States. For each vehicle, NHTSA wants to know details such as the version of software and hardware installed, whether it has dash cams and Tesla Vision, and more. Second, they want to know the total mileage covered by all vehicles of a particular model and model year. Third, Tesla must describe all modifications or changes made to the vehicles in question, including the dates those changes were made and the hardware or software that was affected.
July 19 update
The July 19 deadline has come and gone with no apparent response from Tesla (NHTSA did not respond to repeated questions on the subject, and Tesla does not have a press office). According to the letter from NHTSA, Tesla will be subject to civil penalties of up to $26,315 per violation per day. The Motor Vehicle Safety Act (49 USC § 30165) caps these fines at $131,564,183. Meanwhile, a new special accident investigation has been launched into the latest fatal accident.