Tesla recalls 2 million U.S. vehicles due to Autopilot safety concerns

14 Dec 2023

Tesla recalls 2 million U.S. vehicles due to Autopilot safety concerns

In response to safety concerns raised by a federal safety regulator, Elon Musk’s Tesla is recalling more than 2 million vehicles in the United States. The recall deemed the largest-ever for the electric automaker, aims to install new safeguards in its autopilot advanced driver-assistance system.

The move comes after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conducted a two-year investigation into whether Tesla’s vehicles adequately ensure drivers remain attentive while using Autopilot. The regulator expressed concerns that the system’s controls might not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse, potentially increasing the risk of crashes.

Acting NHTSA Administrator Ann Carlson commended Tesla for agreeing to the recall during a U.S. House hearing. Carlson revealed that the safety probe began in August 2021, prompted by reports of fatal crashes involving the use of Autopilot. She emphasized the agency's determination to address the issue, stating that one of the things they had determined was that drivers were not always paying attention when that system was on.

The recall, covering nearly all Tesla vehicles on U.S. roads, is intended to enhance driver attention while using Autopilot. The system, designed to enable cars to steer, accelerate, and brake automatically within their lane, has faced scrutiny for its potential to be misused.

In a separate development, Transport Canada announced that Tesla would recall 193,000 vehicles to address the Autopilot issue. However, it remains unclear whether China will demand a similar recall.

Despite not fully agreeing with NHTSA’s analysis, Tesla plans to deploy an over-the-air software update. The update will incorporate additional controls and alerts to encourage drivers to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility when Autopilot is engaged.

U.S. Senators Ed Markey and Richard Blumenthal welcomed the recall but criticized its delay. They urged NHTSA to continue investigations and called on Tesla to provide accurate information to drivers.

The NHTSA emphasized that its investigation into Autopilot would remain open as it monitors Tesla’s remedial actions. Meanwhile, Tesla has not provided details on the global extent of the recall or specific information about the new safeguards.

The NHTSA investigation, initiated in August 2021, identified more than a dozen crashes involving Tesla vehicles hitting stationary emergency vehicles. The regulator found that Autopilot could provide inadequate driver engagement and usage controls, leading to foreseeable misuse.

Despite the recall being seen as a positive step, legal experts highlight its limitations. Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor, noted that the software-only fix places considerable responsibility on human drivers.

Tesla Model X

As Tesla works on the update for 2.03 million Model S, X, 3, and Y vehicles in the U.S. dating back to 2012, the company faces increased scrutiny, including a criminal investigation by the U.S. Justice Department related to its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving (FSD).

This latest recall follows Tesla’s previous recall in February 2023, involving 362,000 U.S. vehicles to update its FSD Beta Software. The NHTSA had raised concerns that these vehicles did not adhere adequately to traffic safety laws.

While the recall addresses immediate concerns, questions about the overall safety of Tesla’s Autopilot system persist. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has criticized Tesla for lacking sufficient safeguards and the NHTSA for failing to ensure Autopilot’s safety.

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