US fast-tracks probe in Tesla Autopilot safety case

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced on Thursday that it was stepping up its investigation into 830,000 Tesla vehicles equipped with the sophisticated driver assistance system Autopilot, which is necessary before a recall can be sought.

After nearly a dozen collisions in which Tesla vehicles collided with stopped emergency vehicles, the auto safety agency launched a preliminary study in August to analyze the system’s functioning in 765,000 vehicles, and announced Thursday that it has detected six more crashes.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is elevating its investigation to an engineering analysis, which it must complete before requesting a recall, if one is judged required.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating whether Tesla vehicles effectively assure that drivers are paying attention. Evidence revealed that drivers in most of the incidents under investigation had followed Tesla’s warning method, which aims to demand driver attention, raising doubts about its effectiveness.

After a deadly Autopilot collision in 2018, the National Transportation Safety Board condemned Tesla’s “ineffective monitoring of driver participation” in 2020, saying NHTSA had offered “scant oversight.”

“To extend the existing crash analysis, evaluate additional data sets, perform vehicle evaluations, and investigate the extent to which Autopilot and associated Tesla systems may exacerbate human factors or behavioral safety risks by undermining the effectiveness of the driver’s supervision,” according to the NHTSA.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has received complaints of 16 collisions involving Tesla vehicles in Autopilot that have collided with stopped first-responder and road maintenance vehicles, with seven injuries and one fatality.

Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts, a Democrat, commended the NHTSA’s update. “Our roads grow more hazardous every day that Tesla breaks safety standards and misleads the public about its “Autopilot” system,” he said on Twitter.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Forward Collision Warnings activated in the majority of instances soon before contact, while Automatic Emergency Braking intervened in roughly half of the collisions.

“Autopilot terminated vehicle control less than one second before the initial collision on average in these incidents,” the government noted.

“Where incident footage was available, the motorist would have seen the approach to the first responder scene for an average of 8 seconds leading up to collision,” according to the NHTSA.

According to the government, “indications existed that the driver was insufficiently attentive to the demands of the dynamic driving job” in around half of the 106 recorded Autopilot incidents.

“A driver’s use or misuse of vehicle components, or inadvertent operation of a vehicle, does not preclude a system flaw,” the government stated.

NHTSA also discovered that in nearly a quarter of the 106 incidents, the major collision reason appeared to be related to running the system, which Tesla claims may be restricted in areas like non-limited-access roads or in visibility settings involving rain, snow, or ice.

According to Tesla, Autopilot allows vehicles to automatically brake and steer within their lanes, but it does not make them capable of driving themselves.

According to a spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, advanced driving assistance features can help drivers “avoid crashes and mitigate the severity of those that do occur,” but “as with all technologies and equipment on motor vehicles, drivers must use them correctly and responsibly.”

After receiving 758 allegations of sudden brake activation linked to Autopilot in its separate review of 416,000 newer vehicles, the NHTSA stated last week that it had requested Tesla to answer to inquiries by June 20.

Separately, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened 35 special crash investigations into Tesla vehicle incidents in which Autopilot or other advanced systems were suspected of being used, resulting in 14 reported deaths since 2016, including a crash that killed three people in California last month.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked a dozen other automakers, including GM, Toyota, and Volkswagen, to respond to questions about “driver engagement and attentiveness strategies” using driver assistance systems “during its Tesla investigation, but has yet to release their findings.

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