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NHTSA investigates Tesla recall remedy, reports 13 fatal crashes since firmware update

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Announcements | Technology
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The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened an investigation into the remedy Tesla used to fix concerns with its “Autopilot” or “Autosteer” that resulted in more than 2 million vehicles being recalled late last year. 

Soon after the recall, Tesla said it released a firmware update that incorporates additional controls and alerts to drivers reminding them to continuously supervise the vehicle when Autosteer is engaged.  

The December recall stemmed from an NHTSA investigation that started in 2021 into the Autosteer feature which Tesla says can provide steering, braking, and acceleration support to the driver on controlled-access highways. The feature is not fully autonomous and drivers must keep their hands on the wheel, according to Tesla

On April 25, NHTSA announced the opening of an investigation into the recall remedy after identifying 13 fatal crashes, in which “foreseeable driver misuse of the system played an apparent role.” 

The Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) determined the crashes happened after the deployment of the remedy, NHTSA documents say. The documents say an investigation was reopened because of the crashes along with results from a preliminary NHTSA test of the vehicles.

“Also, Tesla has stated that a portion of the remedy both requires the owner to opt in and allows a driver to readily reverse it,” the documents say. 

NHTSA reported that an analysis found the vehicles were involved in 956 crashes while Autopilot was in use between January 2018 and August 2023. Of the 956 crashes, 29 were fatal.

The document says during the analysis, ODI observed “a trend of avoidable crashes involving hazards that would have been visible to an attentive driver.”

In one example, NHTSA says a 2022 Model Y was traveling at highway speed when it struck a minor pedestrian exiting a school bus in North Carolina. 

“The pedestrian was evacuated by air to a hospital for treatment of serious injuries,” the document says. “Based on publicly available information, both the bus and the pedestrian would have been visible to an attentive driver and allowed the driver to avoid or minimize the severity of this crash.” 

NHTSA says gaps in Tesla’s telematic data create uncertainty regarding how often crashes occur with Autopilot engaged.

While NHTSA continues to investigate Tesla for its remedy, it did recently close a probe into seat belt failures for more than 100,000 Tesla Model X vehicles, according to Reuters.

Reuters says NHTSA closed the probe following recalls and updates launched by Tesla but added additional action could be taken in the future if needed.

Tesla issued a recall in July because the seat belt could detach, according to NHTSA. It said the belts may not connect properly to their pretensioner anchors, which could cause the belts to not properly restrain an occupant during a crash increasing risk of injury.


Images courtesy of baileystock/iStock

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