The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is investigating why Tesla Motor Company has failed to issue a recall after it updated its Autopilot software. Concern over Tesla’s Autopilot system has grown in recent years, as safety issues have been reported by drivers whose vehicles have failed to detect hazards. Here’s the latest on the safety concerns associated with several Tesla vehicles.
Troubling Autopilot Issues
In August 2021, NHTSA launched an investigation into twelve crashes involving Teslas in Autopilot mode. In each instance, the vehicles failed to detect stopped emergency vehicles emitting flashing lights. One of these incidents resulted in the death of a passenger. Additionally, other Autopilot-related crashes have contributed to ten fatalities since 2016.
Tesla Uses an Atypical Update Process
For most auto safety recalls, automakers announce the recall, notify affected customers, and urge them to take their vehicles to the dealer for the recommended replacements or repairs. However, Tesla has the ability to send software updates to customers over the internet, bypassing this process altogether. The NHTSA is looking into whether this process for updating software circumvents regulatory requirements. In a recent letter to Tesla, the NHTSA stated, “Any manufacturer issuing an over-the-air update that mitigates a defect that poses an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety is required to timely file an accompanying recall notice to NHTSA.” The NHTSA is requesting a response from Tesla as soon as possible.
Next Steps for Tesla Customers
So far, Tesla has not commented on the NHTSA’s investigation, saying only that the Autopilot feature is not a safety risk—they claim that the feature actually improves overall vehicle performance and road safety. As we wait to see how this investigation proceeds, Tesla customers should recognize the potential safety risks associated with the Autopilot system and exercise caution when using this feature.
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