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Tesla Autopilot is being investigated by NHTSA over 11 crashes involving first responder vehicles

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.

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