NHTSA Widens Tesla Autopilot Probe

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a division of the Department of Transportation, has expanded its investigation into electric automaker Tesla’s “Autopilot” automated driving software. Initially launched last year, the probe will now encompass approximately 830,000 Tesla cars, according to Reuters, which notes that the probe is a “required step” prior to any potential recall.

The NHTSA investigation was originally opened in response to incidents in which Tesla vehicles crashed into stationary emergency vehicles tending to preexisting traffic crashes. The NHTSA said the probe’s expansion follows its identification of similar incidents—specifically, 16 Tesla crashes resulting in 7 injuries and one fatality, per Reuters. The cars hit “stationary in-road or roadside first responder vehicles tending to pre-existing collision scenes” while using the Autopilot function, as the NHTSA explained in its notice announcing the probe’s expansion. 

The expanded probe will include an engineering analysis “to extend the existing crash analysis, evaluate additional data sets, perform vehicle evaluations, and to explore the degree to which Autopilot and associated Tesla systems may exacerbate human factors or behavioral safety risks by undermining the effectiveness of the driver’s supervision.”

As a report by Fortune notes, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has said that the Autopilot feature is not responsible for the car accidents, citing company data showing that the technology “was not active in the moment of the collision.” The NHTSA stated that its examination so far has found that “On average in these crashes, Autopilot aborted vehicle control less than one second prior to the first impact.”

Before announcing the expansion of its probe, the NHTSA sent Tesla a request for information regarding “seven hundred and fifty-eight reports of unexpected brake activation in certain (MY) 2021-2022 Model 3 & Y vehicles,” as part of another probe into the automaker. It has also “opened 35 special crash investigations into incidents involving Tesla vehicles” where the Autopilot feature may have been involved in more than a dozen deaths in the last six years, according to Reuters.

More information on the NHTSA’s investigation into whether Tesla’s Autopilot feature has been involved in car crashes is available via Reuters, Fortune, and the NHTSA.

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