Those who own or lease a Tesla vehicle probably recognize that much controversy has arisen surrounding the Autopilot feature. Even if you do not drive a Tesla, you may have heard of incidents occurring across the country in which Tesla vehicles actively using the driver-assistance program collided with other vehicles or pedestrians. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and other regulatory agencies are actively investigating these incidents, hoping to locate the source of the issue and either compel the manufacturer to provide replacement parts or restrict the use of Autopilot in certain situations. Let’s take a look at the current status of this Tesla Autopilot controversy and what consumers can expect in the months ahead.
Tesla’s Approach to Autopilot Feature
Many automakers, like General Motors and Ford Motor Company, offer automated-driver features that actively monitor whether drivers have their eyes on the road. These companies also limit the use of automated features, allowing drivers to use them only on verified highways that have been thoroughly mapped and vetted before becoming available to drivers.
In contrast, Tesla has assumed a more “hands-off” approach, allowing drivers to use this technology under a broader set of circumstances. In fact, as soon as Tesla released software to enable Autopilot in 2015, videos of drivers removing their hands from the wheel, eating while driving, or even closing their eyes immediately popped up. Although Tesla reminded drivers to remain alert while using Autopilot, the technology still made it possible for drivers to engage in risky driving practices, joking or not.
Growing Number of Tesla Autopilot-Related Crashes
Over the past few years, numerous Tesla crashes have occurred across the country. After receiving twelve incident reports of Tesla crashes involving the Autopilot feature, the NHTSA formally launched an investigation on August 13, 2021. These twelve crashes led to one passenger death and seventeen individual injuries. However, the NHTSA has encountered difficulties when investigating these incidents, as Tesla has not maintained a cooperative attitude over the last year. In all, the NHTSA has opened 31 special investigations into crashes involving driver-assistance features, 24 of which involved Tesla vehicles.
How Tesla is Responding to the NHTSA Investigations
For the most part, Tesla maintains that safety is the company’s top priority. In March, Tesla’s senior director of public policy and business development stated, “Making our vehicles safer is foundational to our company culture and how we innovate new technologies.” However, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has taken a looser stance, offering features to Tesla consumers and putting more responsibility in their hands to operate the vehicles safely. As Tesla announced plans to move forward with Full Self-Driving (FSD) capabilities, safety regulators immediately sought information from Tesla about this upcoming technology. In November 2021, Tesla recalled a version of FSD, while the company issued another FSD-related recall in February 2022.
What May Lie Ahead for Tesla Consumers
Once the NHTSA concludes its investigations, it could compel Tesla to order safety recalls. However, the law allows Tesla to choose how to respond to a recall order. For example, Tesla may be able to send an over-the-air software update to Tesla vehicles using an internet connection, as the company has done for other recalls in the past. Or, Tesla may agree to have cameras installed behind its vehicles’ steering wheels to see whether drivers keep their eyes on the road while the Autopilot feature is engaged, as other automakers do. Whatever action Tesla opts to take, consumers should seek the necessary updates and repairs as soon as they are made available.
Keeping California Drivers Safe
Regardless of the type of vehicle you drive, practicing safe driving habits is essential. Automated features still require drivers to remain alert and attentive—Autopilot does not mean the same thing as a self-driving car. If your vehicle is experiencing recurring issues or you have concerns about your car’s overall safety, reach out to a trusted and experienced Bay Area lemon law attorney to discuss your situation. Together, you can determine the most strategic course of action.
Call Lemon Law Partners, LLP, today at (510) 944-0336 to schedule a free case evaluation with a dedicated and friendly Berkeley lemon law attorney.