Federal Authorities Launch Probe Into Tesla’s Autopilot System Following Crashes

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'
August 16, 2021 Updated: August 16, 2021

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has opened a formal probe into Tesla’s partially automated driving system after a series of collisions with parked emergency vehicles.

According to an NHTSA document issued on Aug. 13 (pdf), the agency’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) has opened a probe encompassing 765,000 Tesla vehicles.

In the document, the agency said it had identified 11 crashes in which various Tesla models approached locations where emergency crews were responding to incidents and struck one or more vehicles at the scene. A total of 17 people were injured in the crashes and one person was killed.

Most of the crashes took place after dark and involved scenes where first responders used flashing lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board, or cones warning of hazards. The probe will include examining the contributing circumstances.

All involved Tesla vehicles were confirmed to have been engaged in either autopilot or traffic-aware cruise control as they approached the crashes.

The probe is looking into Tesla Models Y, X, S, and 3, from model years 2014 to 2021.

“The investigation will assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during autopilot operation,” the document reads.

The earliest crash into emergency vehicles dates back to Jan. 22, 2018, in Culver City, California. The other crashes were in Laguna Beach, California; Norwalk, Connecticut; Cloverdale, Indiana; West Bridgewater, Massachusetts; Cochise County, Arizona; Charlotte, North Carolina; Montgomery County, Texas; Lansing, Michigan; Miami, Florida; and San Diego, California.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which also has investigated some of the Tesla crashes, has recommended that NHTSA and Tesla limit autopilot’s use to areas where it can operate safely. The NTSB also recommended that NHTSA require Tesla to have a better system to make sure drivers are paying attention. NHTSA hasn’t taken action on any of the recommendations. The NTSB has no enforcement powers and can only make recommendations to other federal agencies such as NHTSA.

There have been reports of Tesla drivers misusing the autopilot feature, including an SF Gate report of a stunt involving a man sitting in the back seat of a Tesla looking straight into the camera as the vehicle rolled down the street near Berkeley, California.

The Epoch Times has reached out to Tesla for comment on the probe.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Tom Ozimek
Reporter
Tom Ozimek has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education. The best writing advice he's ever heard is from Roy Peter Clark: 'Hit your target' and 'leave the best for last.'