US Launches Investigation Into Tesla’s Self-Driving Tech After Numerous Crashes
The US government have launched a formal investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot function, due to reports of numerous crashes.
The formal investigation is into Tesla’s driver-assistance systems, known as Autopilot.
The investigation is taking place due to a series of collisions between Tesla Autopilot cars and parked emergency vehicles.
The investigation will review 765,000 vehicles that have been made since 2014. This means that the investigation will cover almost everything that Tesla has sold in the US since the start of the first model’s year.
As part of the investigation, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) identified that one person had been killed and a further 17 people injured as a result of the crashes.
Since 2o18, the NHTSA have identified 11 crashes. The crashes they identified were caused by Teslas on Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control, with ‘most incidents’ having taken place after dark. On Monday, the NHTSA went on to state on its website, ‘The crash scenes encountered included scene control measures such as first responder vehicle lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board, and road cones.’
The NHTSA’s investigation covers Models Y, X, S and 3, from the 2014 to the 2021 model years. It is Tesla’s entire current model lineup.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has also investigated some of the Tesla crashes. It has subsequently recommended that the NHTSA and Tesla restrict the use of areas that Autopilot can be used in to locations where it can safely operate.
The NTSB is also recommending that Tesla should have a better system to ensure drivers are still paying attention while in the vehicle. However, it has not yet taken action upon receiving this advice and the NTSB has no powers to enforce its suggestions.
Tesla drivers have frequently misused the Autopilot feature, with some drivers having been caught sitting in the back seat or even driving drunk.
The NHTSA has previously opened at least 30 crash investigations involving Tesla cars, so this investigation is the latest in the series. The former investigations were also suspected to be linked to the Autopilot function. However, in 2016, one investigation did clear Tesla’s Autopilot of any blame.
Other manufacturers, as well as Tesla, have warned drivers that despite using such systems, they should be ready to intervene at all times.
In a Twitter post earlier last week, Tesla stated, ‘In 2020, a Tesla with Autopilot engaged experienced 0.2 accidents per million miles driven, while the US average was 9x higher.’
The crashes being investigated by the NHTSA, in which Tesla vehicles crashed into emergency vehicles, began on 22 January 2018. The incidents saw a Tesla using Autopilot in Culver City near Los Angeles, striking a firetruck. The truck had been parked partially in the travel lanes and had its lights flashing.
The NHTSA has said that since then, there have been crashes in more than five other locations in the US. The locations are: Laguna Beach in California; Norwalk in Connecticut; Cloverdale in Indiana; West Bridgewater in Massachusetts; Cochise County in Arizona; Charlotte in North Carolina; Montgomery County in Texas; Lansing in Michigan; and Miami in Florida.
In investigation documents, the NHTSA stated:
The investigation will assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation.
NHTSA reminds the public that no commercially available motor vehicles today are capable of driving themselves,” the agency said in a statement. “Every available vehicle requires a human driver to be in control at all times, and all state laws hold human drivers responsible for operation of their vehicles.
The investigation will cover object and event detection by the system and also determine where it is allowed to operate. The NHTSA will, however, examine ‘contributing circumstances’ to the crashes and other similar incidents.
To protect the public and investigate possible safety issues, the NHTSA has said it will use ‘robust enforcement tools’. It states that if it finds evidence of ‘noncompliance or an unreasonable risk to safety’, that it will act.
The agency has begun to take a stricter stance on automated vehicle safety. In June, automakers were instructed by the NHTSA to report any crashes that involved fully automated vehicles or partly automated driver assistance systems.
The investigation could result in recall or other enforcement action.
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