NHTSA Launches Sweeping Investigation into Tesla Autopilot Crashes

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In a significant development, the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has initiated a comprehensive investigation into Tesla vehicles equipped with the Autopilot driver assistance system. The probe covers cars manufactured in the United States between 2012 and 2024.

Autopilot Involved in Fatal Crashes

NHTSA’s investigation uncovered at least 13 fatal crashes involving Tesla’s Autopilot system, as well as numerous incidents resulting in serious injuries. The agency found that these crashes were directly attributable to driver misuse of the Autopilot and Full Self-Driving capabilities.

Discrepancy Between Claims and Capabilities

The investigation revealed discrepancies between Tesla’s claims about Autopilot’s capabilities and the reality of the system’s performance. NHTSA expressed concerns that the Autopilot name “may lead drivers to believe that the automation has greater capabilities than it does and invite drivers to overly trust the automation.”

Inadequate Driver Engagement System

A key finding of the investigation was that Tesla’s driver engagement system was not suitable for Autopilot’s permissive operating capabilities, resulting in a “critical safety gap.” This gap led to foreseeable misuse and avoidable crashes, according to NHTSA.

Recall and Software Updates Under Scrutiny

In December 2022, Tesla initiated a recall to enhance driver attention when using its advanced driver-assistance system. However, NHTSA has now opened a second investigation to assess the adequacy of the recall and subsequent software updates.

Ongoing Scrutiny and Criticism

The investigation has drawn criticism from consumer advocacy groups, with Consumer Reports stating that the recall addressed “minor inconveniences rather than fixing the real problems” and urging NHTSA to require Tesla to take “stronger steps” to address the safety concerns.