NHTSA Finds Critical Safety Gaps in Tesla’s Autopilot System

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NHTSA Finds Critical Safety Gaps in Tesla's Autopilot System

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has uncovered significant safety concerns with Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance system. According to the agency’s analysis, the system has a “critical safety gap” that has contributed to at least 467 crashes, including 13 fatal incidents and many more resulting in serious injuries.

Autopilot Misuse and Crashes

NHTSA’s investigation examined a total of 956 crashes involving Tesla vehicles with Autopilot engaged. The agency found that in nearly half of these incidents (467 crashes), the crashes could have been avoided if drivers had remained attentive and ready to take control of the vehicle. The most severe crashes often involved the front of a Tesla colliding with an object at high speeds, where an alert driver could have prevented or mitigated the collision.¬†Other common issues included loss of traction on wet roads and the inadvertent disabling of Autopilot’s steering function.

Inadequate Driver Engagement Safeguards

NHTSA determined that Tesla’s driver engagement system was “not appropriate for Autopilot’s permissive operating capabilities.” The agency found that the system’s controls and warnings were insufficient to prevent driver misuse, such as using Autopilot outside of the highways it was designed for.

The agency also expressed concerns about Tesla’s use of the term “Autopilot,” stating that it “may lead drivers to believe that the automation has greater capabilities than it does and invite drivers to overly trust the automation.”

Ongoing Investigations and Recalls

In December 2023, Tesla recalled over 2 million vehicles to update the Autopilot system, but NHTSA is now investigating the adequacy of those fixes. The agency has identified 20 additional crashes involving vehicles that received the software updates, indicating the problem persists. NHTSA’s findings underscore the need for stronger safeguards and more transparent communication about the limitations of Tesla’s driver assistance features. The agency’s ongoing scrutiny of Tesla’s Autopilot system highlights the critical importance of ensuring the safety of emerging automotive technologies.