Tesla Recalls Two Million Cars As Regulator Flags Autopilot Risk

Elon Musk’s Tesla is having to recall nearly all its vehicles it has sold in the United States, after the US transportation safety regulator ordered a recall following a two year investigation.

On Monday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued a recall notice for just over two million Tesla vehicles following a two-year investigation into a series of accidents and crashes involving Tesla vehicles using Autopilot.

Tesla will roll out the ‘over the air’ update to 2.03 million Model S, X, 3 and Y vehicles in the United States dating back to the 2012 model year. There is no word if Tesla will do the same recall for its vehicles in the UK, Europe or China.

Tesla’s Model S. Image credit: Tesla

Largest ever recall

The NHTSA in its recall notice said that 100 percent of the 2.03 million recalled Tesla vehicles in the US have been impacted, and it is Tesla’s largest ever recall to date.

“In certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse of the SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance feature,” the NHTSA recall states.

“In certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, if a driver misuses the SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance feature such that they fail to maintain continuous and sustained responsibility for vehicle operation and are unprepared to intervene, fail to recognize when the feature is cancelled or not engaged, and/or fail to recognize when the feature is operating in situations where its functionality may be limited, there may be an increased risk of a collision.”

The recall notice applies to all Tesla vehicle models equipped with Autosteer, a driver-assist feature included within Tesla’s basic Autopilot package.

The recall in the US covers:

  • 2012–2023 Model S
  • 2016–2023 Model X
  • 2017–2023 Model 3
  • 2020–2023 Model Y

Autopilot is able (with human supervision) to steer, accelerate and brake cars automatically within their lane, while enhanced Autopilot can assist in changing lanes on highways. This is not an autonomous driving solution.

One component of Autopilot is Autosteer, which maintains a set speed or following distance and controls the vehicle to keep it within its driving lane.

The NHTSA has previously ordered other Tesla recalls. For example in February 2023 Tesla had to recall 362,758 vehicles equipped with the Full Self-Driving (FSD) beta – a more advanced driver’s assistance program.

Autopilot investigation

It was back in August 2021 when the NHTSA had launched a formal investigation of Tesla’s Autopilot, after a series of high profile fatal crashes.

Then in June 2022 the NHTSA upgraded its investigation of Tesla’s Autopilot – the step taken before the agency determines a recall.

In October 2022 it was reported that the US Department of Justice had also launched a previously undisclosed criminal investigation back in 2021 over Tesla’s alleged claims that its electric vehicles (EVs) can drive themselves.

In July 2023, the NHTSA ordered Tesla to provide updated records as it continued its safety probe.

Tesla EVs have been at the centre of a number of incidents in recent years surrounding the use of automated driving systems, including multiple accidents and indeed fatalities. And Tesla’s crashes into emergency vehicles is also concerning the US authorities.

Tesla response

Tesla told Reuters it did not agree with NHTSA’s analysis but would deploy an over-the-air software update that will “incorporate additional controls and alerts to those already existing on affected vehicles to further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility whenever Autosteer is engaged.”

Tesla reportedly did not respond to a question on whether the recall would be performed outside the United States.

It is understood that the free update (software version 2023.44.30) will be deployed from 12 December and aims to provide additional controls and alerts to prompt drivers to be in full control of the car when Autosteer is enabled.

The update also limits Autosteer use “when conditions are not met for engagement,” preventing the feature from being used entirely in some cases.

In September 2020 a Tesla driver in Canada was charged, after he and his passenger were found by police in Alberta sleeping in fully reclined seats whilst the Tesla drove along a highway in autonomous mode at speeds of more than 140kph (86mph).

The driver had overcome the Tesla safety system by attaching a weight to the steering wheel to trick the car’s systems.

Meanwhile NHTSA’s investigation into Autopilot will remain open as it monitors the efficacy of Tesla’s remedies.

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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