The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that it’s opening an investigation into Tesla Autopilot over its possible involvement in 11 crashes with emergency and first responder vehicles.

Tesla Autopilot is a level 2 driver-assist system that consists of several features but mainly Autosteer, which enables a vehicle to automatically steer within a lane on the highway, and Traffic-Aware Cruise Control, which adjusts speed based on the traffic.

Today, NHTSA says that it has identified 11 crashes involving Tesla vehicles on Autopilot and first responder vehicles.

In each case, the federal agency says that Autopilot was engaged:

Most incidents took place after dark and the crash scenes encountered included scene control measures such as first responder vehicle lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board, and road cones. The involved subject vehicles were all confirmed to have been engaged in either Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control during the approach to the crashes.

Of the 11 accidents, 4 happened in 2021, which likely prompted the investigation:

  • 07/10/2021 San Diego
  • 05/19/2021 Miami
  • 03/17/2021 Lansing, MI
  • 02/27/2021 Montgomery County, TX
  • 08/26/2020 Charlotte
  • 07/30/2020 Cochise County, AZ
  • 01/22/2020 West Bridgewater, MA
  • 12/29/2019 Cloverdale, IN
  • 12/10/2019 Norwalk, CT
  • 05/29/2018 Laguna Beach, CA
  • 01/22/2018 Culver City, CA

The investigation covers all Tesla models equipped with any version of Autopilot, which includes Model S, Model X, Model 3, and Model Y from 2014 to today.

In its investigation, NHTSA will “assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation.”

Furthermore, the agency says that it will also “assess the OEDR by vehicles when engaged in Autopilot mode, and ODD in which the Autopilot mode is functional.”

Electrek’s Take

Other than the increased frequency based on that list, I’m not sure I understand this investigation.

First responder vehicle or not, Tesla Autopilot has had difficulties stopping for objects on the highway, like a car parked on a lane.

In several cases, it’s been confirmed that the drivers weren’t paying attention and crashed into the vehicles stopped on the road. This is a problem with any cruise control system.

Now they might be looking into whether or not drivers have a tendency to become more complacent with Tesla Autopilot and pay less attention, which could lead to those crashes, but again, I don’t see what this has to do with first responder vehicles.

Tesla also has similar issues with stalled vehicles on the road.

Some drivers have been reporting better behavior on that front with the switch to Tesla Vision, which doesn’t rely on a radar sensor anymore.

As for the recent increase in frequency, it could possibly be explained simply by the higher number of Tesla vehicles on US roads.

But that’s just my two cents. Let’s see what NTHSA comes up with in this investigation.

FTC: We use income earning auto affiliate links. More.


Subscribe to Electrek on YouTube for exclusive videos and subscribe to the podcast.

Stay up to date with the latest content by subscribing to Electrek on Google News. You’re reading Electrek— experts who break news about Tesla, electric vehicles, and green energy, day after day. Be sure to check out our homepage for all the latest news, and follow Electrek on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay in the loop. Don’t know where to start? Check out our YouTube channel for the latest reviews.

About the Author

Fred Lambert

Fred is the Editor in Chief and Main Writer at Electrek.

You can send tips on Twitter (DMs open) or via email: fred@9to5mac.com

Through Zalkon.com, you can check out Fred’s portfolio and get monthly green stock investment ideas.