The federal safety investigation is more important than ever.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into Tesla's Autopilot system earlier this month, covering some 765,000 vehicles. That's basically every Tesla Model S, Model X, Model 3, and Model Y sold from 2014 to present. The government agency is focusing on 11 specific crashes since 2018 where a Tesla vehicle with Autopilot engaged ended up smashing into another car parked near emergency first responder vehicles with flashing lights, flares, and hazard cones.
One Model 3 even crashed into a parked police car. And now it's happened again. The Associated Press reports that an unspecified Tesla vehicle slammed into a Florida Highway Patrol car this past Saturday near downtown Orlando.
Fortunately, the officer, who had pulled over to assist another vehicle, was uninjured but only narrowly escaped harm. The trooper activated his cruiser's emergency lights before walking over to the second vehicle when the Tesla suddenly smashed into the cruiser's left side. It then collided with another vehicle. The Tesla's 27-year-old driver and the driver of the disabled vehicle suffered minor injuries.
Not surprisingly, Tesla has not responded to comment. The feds are certainly going to take this latest incident very seriously. Prior to now, a total of 17 people have been injured and one fatality. It's possible the NHTSA's investigation will lead to a recall. Tesla previously pledged its full cooperation with investigators.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has conducted its own investigation into Tesla crashes and, so far, its recommendations have been applied. It wants to see the NHTSA force Tesla to limit usage of Autopilot to areas where it can operate safely. The automaker should also update the system to make sure drivers are paying full attention to the road when engaged.
The name "Autopilot" itself has come under scrutiny as well. Two US Senators have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the carmaker's public marketing. Autopilot is not full self-driving, but rather Level 2 on a five-level scale. Level 5 is complete autonomy.