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NHTSA slaps Tesla on the wrist in deadly Autopilot crash investigation with a mass recall over driver warnings

A Model 3 driving on Autopilot (image: Tesla)
A Model 3 driving on Autopilot (image: Tesla)
Instead of wrangling with Tesla further, NHTSA decided to issue a recall on all its vehicles sold in the US to fix Autopilot safety issues. Rather than deep autonomous driving system fixes, though, Tesla is asked to rev up driver warnings.

The long and arduous investigation of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) into deadly Tesla vehicle crashes where its Autopilot driver assist feature is a suspect has come to the predicted recall conclusion. Tesla will have to issue an OTA software update as a fix to 2 million vehicles now, nearly everything it has sold in the US. The recall encompasses the Model Y, S, 3 and X that Tesla has manufactured starting way back from October 5 in 2012, down to the last car it produced for shipping in the US on December 7, 2023.

Instead of restricting Autopilot features and operational areas on older hardware, though, or improving the object recognition and reaction times, the NHTSA has simply asked Tesla to increase driver warnings. The agency has been meeting with Tesla representatives for a good while now, but they have refused to acknowledge faults in the system that would make it liable for the more than 17 deaths in 35 crashes that NHTSA has investigated so far.

Instead of continuing to argue with Tesla for drastic autonomous driving software and hardware changes, the NHTSA simply decided to work on the other side of the equation, and force it to improve its driver warning system for now:

At no cost to customers, affected vehicles will receive an over-the-air software remedy, which is expected to begin deploying to certain affected vehicles on or shortly after December 12, 2023, with software version 2023.44.30. Remaining affected vehicles will receive an over-the-air software remedy at a later date. The remedy will incorporate additional controls and alerts to those already existing on affected vehicles to further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility whenever Autosteer is engaged, which includes keeping their hands on the steering wheel and paying attention to the roadway. Depending on vehicle hardware, the additional controls will include, among others, increasing the prominence of visual alerts on the user interface, simplifying engagement and disengagement of Autosteer, additional checks upon engaging Autosteer and while using the feature outside controlled access highways and when approaching traffic controls, and eventual suspension from Autosteer use if the driver repeatedly fails to demonstrate continuous and sustained driving responsibility while the feature is engaged.   

Tesla stock is down a few percentage points on the news today, but some argue that these warning fixes and Autosteer engagement limitations don't go nearly far enough and amount to a slap on the wrist, compared to what could've been if the NHTSA decided to press on and force drastic changes in Tesla's autonomous driving ambitions.

According to professor Philip Koopman from Carnegie Mellon University, "the compromise is disappointing because it does not fix the problem that the older cars do not have adequate hardware for driver monitoring." As part of the Center for Auto Safety nonprofit, he also argues that the recall "is not answering the question of why are Teslas on Autopilot not detecting and responding to emergency activity." There have indeed been many instances when Autopilot may have gotten fooled by flashing lights on first responder vehicles and fails to react accordingly, resulting in crashes into fire trucks that have sometimes been deadly.

The agency, however, preferred something tangible to be done now in order to prevent some of the crashes, and will keep the investigation open while they "monitor the efficacy of Tesla’s remedies and continue to work with the automaker to ensure the highest level of safety."

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> Expert Reviews and News on Laptops, Smartphones and Tech Innovations > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2023 12 > NHTSA slaps Tesla on the wrist in deadly Autopilot crash investigation with a mass recall over driver warnings
Daniel Zlatev, 2023-12-13 (Update: 2023-12-13)