US Regulator Probes Effectiveness Of Tesla Autopilot Recall

US auto safety regulators have opened a probe into the adequacy of Tesla’s biggest-ever recall last December, which dealt with safety concerns in its Autopilot driver-assistance feature.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said it had identified issues in analyses of crashes since December involving vehicles in which the recall software had been installed as well as preliminary tests of remedied vehicles.

The new investigation, announced late on Friday, comes a day after the NHTSA closed its original 2021 investigation into Autopilot, citing the recall and the probe into its effectiveness.

The 2021 investigation found evidence that Tesla’s “weak” driver engagement system was “not appropriate for Autopilot’s permissive operating capabilities”, resulting in a “critical safety gap”, the agency said.

Image credit: Unsplash

Safety concerns

The December recall, carried out via an over-the-air software update, was designed to add “additional conctrols and alerts” to “further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility”, Tesla said at the time, adding that it did not agree with the NHTSA’s analysis.

It addressed regulator concerns that drivers were easily able to bypass systems designed to ensure they were paying attention while the system was engaged.

But the NHTSA noted that a portion of the recall requires drivers to opt in and also enables them to easily reverse it.

It said Tesla had also released further software updates that appear related to the Autopilot safety concerns but had not made them part of the recall.

The NHTSA said on Friday that its 2021 Autopilot safety investigation identified at least 13 Tesla crashes involving one or more fatalities and many more involving serious injuries in which “foreseeable driver misuse of the system played an apparent role”.

Biggest-ever recall

It added that the Autopilot name “may lead drivers to believe that the automation has greater capabilities than it does and invite drivers to overly trust the automation”.

The December recall, affecting 2.03 million US vehicles, or nearly all of its cars on US roads, covers all Autopilot-equipped Tesla vehicles from 2012 to 2024 model years.

That includes the Cybertruck, which is the subject of a separate recall over defective accelerator pedals.

In February, US consumer organisation Consumer Reports found the Tesla update “doesn’t go far enough to prevent misuse or address the root causes of driver inattention”.

Matthew Broersma

Matt Broersma is a long standing tech freelance, who has worked for Ziff-Davis, ZDnet and other leading publications

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