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Tesla is asked to disable Boombox feature when in drive, NHTSA deems it a safety risk

Tesla was hit by yet another recall today as NHTSA asked the automaker to disable its Boombox feature, which allows drivers to play sounds through their cars’ external speakers when in drive, as the agency believes it is a safety risk.

The Boombox feature is more than a year old at this point since it was introduced in Tesla’s 2020 holiday update.

Using the external speakers meant for the pedestrian warning sound, the Boombox feature enables Tesla drivers to play pre-selected sounds through those speakers.

However, it sounds like NHTSA was never a big fan of the feature, and it has been discussing it with Tesla over the last year.

A new timeline released by NHTSA today showed that Tesla tried hard to defend the feature, but it ultimately agreed to disable it when the vehicle is moving:

  • On or about December 24, 2020, Tesla began deploying firmware release 2020.48.25 over-the-air (“OTA”) to affected vehicles. The release introduced Boombox.
  • On January 15, 2021, NHTSA issued an information request (OA-141-210104) to investigate Boombox’s compliance with FMVSS 141.
  • On February 5, 2021, Tesla responded to the information request, explaining feature performance and demonstrating its compliance with FMVSS 141.
  • Over the next several months, Tesla responded to additional information requests from NHTSA and participated in a number of virtual meetings with the Agency.
  • On September 9, 2021, NHTSA upgraded the investigation to a Preliminary Evaluation (PE-141-210104) and requested additional information from Tesla relating to Boombox’s compliance with FMVSS 141.
  • On October 18, 2021, Tesla responded to NHTSA’s request, further demonstrating and defending the tests performed and rationale used to determine Boombox’s compliance with FMVSS 141.
  • On January 27 and 28, 2022, NHTSA and Tesla further discussed Boombox’s compliance with FMVSS 141.
  • On January 29, 2022, Tesla decided to voluntarily recall and disable Boombox functionality in Drive, Neutral, and Reverse modes with an OTA firmware update.

Interestingly, in the safety recall notice, NHTSA admits that the feature results in making the car even more noticeable, which is the goal of the pedestrian warning sound (PWS), but it still deemed it a “safety risk” for non-compliance to the PWS regulation:

“While Boombox can enhance the conspicuity of the vehicle to pedestrians, a vehicle that uses Boombox when in motion may cause the PWS to be noncompliant with FMVSS 141, which could increase the risk of a collision. Tesla is not aware of any crashes, injuries or fatalities related to this condition.”

The safety recall affects over half a million cars, every Tesla vehicle in the US with the Boombox feature.

This is Tesla’s fourth NHTSA recall in just a few weeks, but they all only required an over-the-air software update.

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