Tesla Faces New Probe Over Claims of ‘Phantom Braking’ at High Speeds

By Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek
Tom Ozimek is a senior reporter for The Epoch Times. He has a broad background in journalism, deposit insurance, marketing and communications, and adult education.
February 17, 2022Updated: February 18, 2022

Tesla is facing a new probe by U.S. auto safety regulators, who said they had received a few hundred complaints alleging unexpected brake activation in some Tesla models, an issue consumers have dubbed “phantom braking.”

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said in a Feb. 16 notice (pdf) that the agency’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) had received 354 complaints claiming that 2021–2022 Tesla Models 3 and Y unexpectedly hit the brakes while the vehicles were driving at highway speeds.

The models in question were equipped with Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system (ADAS), otherwise known as Autopilot, which Tesla says let the vehicles steer and brake automatically.

NHTSA said the individuals filing the complaints said the Autopilot features were engaged when the vehicle “unexpectedly applies its brakes while driving at highway speeds,” with the activation of the system slowing the cars down fast.

“Complainants report that the rapid deceleration can occur without warning, and often repeatedly during a single drive cycle,” NHTSA noted.

The reports, received over the past nine months, have often been described by consumers as “phantom braking,” the agency added.

No crashes or injuries have been reported in connection with the complaints, with the NHTSA saying it was opening the probe to determine the scope and severity of the potential problem and its possible ramifications for safety.

The Epoch Times has contacted Tesla with a request for comment on the investigation.

The probe is the latest in a series of enforcement efforts by U.S. auto regulators relating to Autopilot and “Full Self-Driving” software, as well as other issues.

A number of Tesla recalls have been issued in recent months, including airbag cushions potentially tearing during deployment, software allowing some models to make rolling stops at intersections, a defect that causes seatbelt chimes to go silent under certain circumstances, and issues relating to the safety of touchscreen displays.

Last summer, NHTSA launched a probe into why Teslas using the company’s Autopilot driver-assist system have repeatedly crashed into emergency vehicles parked on roadways.

At the time, 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.

The autopilot-linked crash investigation drew scrutiny from some lawmakers, who called on the Federal Trade Commission to probe Tesla, alleging that the company exaggerated the capability of its vehicles’ self-driving features and so put the public in danger.