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NHTSA looks into reports that Tesla added crash test code into vehicle software

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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is looking into recent reports that Tesla has added special codes in its vehicle software related to crash testing with auto safety agencies.

The agency is aware of the reports, and is currently discussing the topic with the manufacturer and reviewing all pertinent information, a NHTSA spokesperson told Repairer Driven News.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) is also aware of the reports, but does not have enough concrete information to offer a response, a spokesperson told RDN.

Speculation about the codes was triggered earlier this month when a Tesla software decoder named green (@atgreentheonly) tweeted, “Tesla just added ANCAP support in their code. This is in addition to already existing ‘I VISTA’ (Chinese testing grounds), EuroNCAP and Korea NCAP”. The coding is related to advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) features, green said.

ANCAP, the Australasian New Car Assessment Program, is Australasia’s independent vehicle safety authority. I-VISTA is a public service platform for intelligent vehicles and smart traffic applications conducted by China Automotive Engineering Research Institute. Euro NCAP, or the European New Car Assessment Programme, is a European voluntary car safety performance assessment program, and KNCAP, or Korea New Car Asssessment Program, is a similar program based in Korea.

“One wonders why do it (they also give testing houses one-off builds with the testing house in the name (with tweaked settings?),” green tweeted. The changes made by the software code are “non-visible settings on the autopilot side,” green added in another tweet.

Responding to a suggestion that Tesla stood accused of cheating on the tests, green replied, “I did not say ‘cheating,’ I just wonder why this is done and why separate different tests like that (or even be aware of them) at sw level. Note this is NOT crash-test related stuff, this is for ADAS testing, nondestructive.”

Recently, the Tesla Model Y was named a Top Safety Pick+ by IIHS, with its front crash prevention system earning “superior” ratings for both pedestrian and vehicle avoidance. NHTSA also gave the Model Y top marks, giving it five out of five stars in all four categories.

Euro NCAP and ANCAP also released their own testing results for the Tesla Model Y, which achieved the highest Euro NCAP overall score under its new protocol.

An ANCAP spokesperson told the Australian automotive website Drive that it is aware of the reports and is looking into the situation.

“The concern is that Tesla might be changing settings in its vehicles to optimize for the tests, which could be cheating,” Fred Lambert wrote on the electric vehicle (EV) news site Electrek. “It’s not unlike what happened during the Dieselgate scandal when automakers were caught having software that detected when the vehicles were emission tested and optimized for better results than would happen outside of the lab.”

NHTSA is already conducting an engineering analysis of Tesla’s Autopilot feature. The agency opened a preliminary evaluation of the issue on Aug. 13, 2021, which was “motivated by an accumulation of crashes in which Tesla vehicles, operating with Autopilot engaged, struck stationary in-road or roadside first responder vehicles tending to pre-existing collision scenes.”

The Associated Press and several other news outlets reported in May that NHTSA is investigating a Tesla crash that killed three in California for possibly involving a partially automated driving system.

NHTSA said in June that the Autopilot analysis would “assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation.”

RDN has asked Tesla to respond to the reports and will update the story if we receive a response. The company disbanded its U.S. media relations team in October 2020.


A Tesla Model Y undergoes NHTSA crash testing. (Provided by NHTSA)

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