The Fed's Investigation Into Tesla Autopilot Crashes Ramps Up

Technology / 5 Comments

The ongoing inquiry now involves 830,000 vehicles.

Tesla's Autopilot system is rather controversial. Many owners swear by the technology, praising its ease of use and cutting-edge capabilities. However, there's no denying the driver-assist has been at the center of several scandalous accidents in the United States and elsewhere, prompting the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to open an investigation into the system.

First opened in August 2021, the NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) states it has now upgraded the investigation in order to evaluate additional data and perform further evaluations. As the report notes, the engineering analysis will "explore the degree to which Autopilot and associated Tesla systems may exacerbate human factors or behavioral safety risks by undermining the effectiveness of the driver's supervision."

The investigation now concerns Tesla Model S, Model 3, Model X, and Model Y vehicles produced between 2014 and 2022, with 830,000 vehicles affected.

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So far, the NHTSA's investigation into nearly 20 Autopilot-related accidents has gleaned some interesting findings. The ODI report notes the analysis of these incidents - which involve Teslas and parked first responder vehicles - indicates the forward collision safety systems were activated in "the majority of incidents immediately prior to impact and that subsequent Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) intervened in approximately half of the collisions."

The government agency says, on average, the Autopilot only aborted less than a second prior to impact in these crashes. The Level 2 autonomous system has been embroiled in several serious car accidents, a recent example being the fatal accident in California that claimed the lives of two innocent road users.

The driver of the Model S was charged with manslaughter, as the responsibility of the vehicle still falls to the driver - something both Tesla and the NHTSA have said before.

2017-2020 Tesla Model 3 Front View Driving Tesla
2016-2020 Tesla Model X P100D Front View Driving Tesla

A study published in 2021 found that Autopilot makes for more distracted drivers. Despite the NHTSA's recommendation that drivers shouldn't take their eyes off the road for more than two seconds, the study showed that with Autopilot engaged, people were looking away for more than five seconds at a time.

For now, the investigation will continue to look into the Autopilot-related accidents. However, should the NHTSA find that there is a safety-related defect in the system, Tesla may be requested to recall the affected models. It's also time for owners of vehicles equipped with Autopilot and similar technology to not palm off driving responsibilities, but rather treat them as additional safety features - which is exactly what they are.

"A driver's use or misuse of vehicle components, or operation of a vehicle in an unintended manner does not necessarily preclude a system defect. This is particularly the case if the [driver's] behavior in question is foreseeable in light of the system's design or operation," reads the ODI report.

KHOU 11/YouTube
KHOU 11/YouTube
KHOU 11/YouTube

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2016-2020 Tesla Model X P100D Front View Driving
2017-2020 Tesla Model 3 Front View Driving

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