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U.S. Auto Safety Regulators Initiate Probe Into Tesla’s Autopilot Recall Efficacy

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(CTN News) – In response to a string of crashes involving vehicles equipped with Tesla’s Autopilot, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced on Friday that it has launched an investigation to determine the adequacy of Tesla’s recall of over 2 million vehicles, which was initiated in December.

The recall aimed to install new safeguards within the Autopilot system following safety concerns.

The NHTSA’s decision to probe the recall effectiveness comes after the agency received reports of 20 crashes involving vehicles that had undergone the Autopilot software updates as part of Tesla’s recall initiative.

This development amplifies regulatory scrutiny on Tesla’s Autopilot technology, particularly at a juncture when CEO Elon Musk is aggressively advocating for full self-driving capabilities.

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Tesla’s Autopilot technology

Tesla’s Autopilot Under Scrutiny:

Tesla has recently offered free trial periods and intends to unveil its robotaxi on August 8.

The agency highlighted its reservations regarding the 20 reported crashes and preliminary test results of updated vehicles.

Furthermore, on the same day, the NHTSA concluded a nearly three-year-long investigation into Autopilot defects, pinpointing a critical safety gap due to what it termed as Tesla’s inadequate driver engagement system for the permissive operational capabilities of Autopilot.

Disclosures made by the NHTSA revealed that during a safety investigation launched in August 2021, at least 13 Tesla crashes, including some fatalities and numerous serious injuries, were linked to driver misuse of the Autopilot system.

The agency listed reports of 54 severe injuries in Autopilot-related crashes attributed to potential driver misuse.

Highlighting a loophole in Tesla’s recall strategy, the NHTSA noted that the December recall allows drivers to easily reverse the software update.

Although Tesla has issued additional software updates to address safety concerns, these updates have not been incorporated into the recall.

Concerns Mount Over Tesla’s Autopilot Safety

Tesla’s December recall, which encompassed approximately 2.03 million vehicles in the U.S., aimed to enhance driver attention while using its advanced driver assistance system.

The ongoing investigation now covers various Tesla models, including the Y, X, S, 3, and Cybertruck, produced between 2012 and 2024.

Moreover, the NHTSA expressed concerns over gaps in Tesla’s crash data reporting, emphasizing that the automaker primarily relies on telematic data from crashes involving airbag deployments, which represent only a fraction of police-reported accidents.

In light of these developments, U.S. Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal urged the NHTSA to restrict the use of Autopilot on roads where it is not intended, emphasizing the necessity of preventing potential safety hazards posed by these vehicles.

Tesla’s shares experienced a 1.1% decline on Friday, reaching $168.26, amidst the unfolding investigation. The company, however, did not respond immediately to requests for comment.

Tesla has consistently emphasized that Autopilot is not a substitute for full self-driving and requires continuous driver attention and hands on the steering wheel.

Consumer Reports, a nonprofit research organization, echoed NHTSA’s concerns, stating that Tesla’s recall updates failed to adequately address safety issues and urged the agency to mandate stronger measures.

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Tesla Crashes

NHTSA’s Ongoing Scrutiny of Tesla: 40 Crash Investigations and Counting

Since 2016, NHTSA has initiated over 40 special crash investigations involving Tesla vehicles, particularly focusing on instances where driver-assist systems like Autopilot were suspected to be involved, with 23 crash fatalities reported thus far.

Tesla’s efforts to address safety concerns include enhancing visual alerts and disengaging Autosteer if drivers fail to respond to warnings of inattentiveness, along with implementing additional checks upon Autosteer activation.

Tesla also disclosed its intention to restrict Autopilot usage for one week in cases of significant improper use.

In a related development, Tesla revealed that the U.S. Justice Department had issued subpoenas concerning its Full Self-Driving (FSD) and Autopilot technologies. This follows a previous report in October 2022, suggesting Tesla’s involvement in a criminal investigation.

Furthermore, in February 2023, Tesla recalled 362,000 vehicles in the U.S. to update its FSD Beta software, addressing concerns raised by the NHTSA regarding adherence to traffic safety laws and potential crash risks.

Arsi Mughal is a staff writer at CTN News, delivering insightful and engaging content on a wide range of topics. With a knack for clear and concise writing, he crafts articles that resonate with readers. Arsi's pieces are well-researched, informative, and presented in a straightforward manner, making complex subjects accessible to a broad audience. His writing style strikes the perfect balance between professionalism and casual approachability, ensuring an enjoyable reading experience.

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