Tesla has to respond to increase in phantom braking complaints

Tesla has to respond to an inquiry from NHTSA regarding the increasing number of phantom braking complaints that it has been receiving.

Back in November of 2021, Electrek released a report called “Tesla has a serious phantom braking problem in Autopilot.” It highlighted a significant increase in Tesla owners reporting dangerous phantom braking events on Autopilot.

Phantom braking is a term used to describe when an advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) – or a self-driving system – applies the brakes for no good reason. The system can be falsely detecting an object on the road or anticipating a collision that won’t actually happen and apply the brake to try to avoid it.

Obviously, phantom braking is something you want to avoid since it can create accidents if someone is following too closely behind you.

This issue is not new in Tesla’s Autopilot, but our report focused on Tesla drivers noticing an obvious increase in instances based on anecdotal evidence, but it was also backed by a clear increase in complaints to the NHTSA.

Our report made the rounds in a few other outlets, but it didn’t really go mainstream until now. However, the Washington Post ended up picking the story up with a very similar report in February that was more widely distributed.

At the time, NHTSA commented on the report saying that they were looking into the issue and talking to Tesla about it. A few weeks later, its Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) confirmed that it opened an investigation into the matter.

In a letter dated last month but recently published, NHTSA has asked a series of questions regarding the 758 phantom braking complaints it received and Tesla has to respond by June 20th:

Tesla’s response to this letter, in duplicate, together with a copy of any confidentiality request, must be submitted to this office by June 20, 2022. Tesla’s response must include all nonconfidential attachments and a redacted version of all documents that contain confidential information.

NHTSA is asking for a wide range of documents related to Tesla’s testing of Autopilot, hardware, and software changes that could have resulted in the increased number of complaints, and much more.

The investigation focuses on 2021-22 Model 3 and Model Y, but as we previously reported, owners of older Model 3 and Model Y vehicles have also been reporting an increased number of phantom braking events, especially after the software update to vision-only Autopilot in May 2021.

Electrek’s Take

I am glad that Tesla is finally getting some pressure on the issue. I know that the idea is that when there’s a safety issue, “Tesla is always first to address it” before any outside investigation, but in this case, if it is addressing, it is not saying anything about it and it is not showing in the updates.

I love Autopilot, especially Navigate on Autopilot. I think it makes my long-distance traveling much more enjoyable and for the most part safer, except for the phantom braking events.

If it can be successfully addressed, it would be a major improvement to Autopilot.

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