the national highway traffic safety administration (nhtsa) will take a deeper look into how tesla vehicles equipped with so-called autopilot driver assistance software navigate when interacting with first responder vehicles at the scene of a collision. nhtsa said this week that it is upgrading the preliminary evaluation it started last august into an engineering analysis, which is the next step in a possible recall of hundreds of thousands of tesla vehicles.
nhtsa said in its notice that it was motivated to upgrade the status of the investigation because of "an accumulation of crashes in which tesla vehicles, operating with autopilot engaged, struck stationary in-road or roadside first responder vehicles tending to pre-existing collision scenes."
nhtsa said that tesla itself characterizes autopilot as "an sae level 2 driving automation system designed to support and assist the driver," and many automakers use some sort of level 2 system in their new vehicles. in fact, as part of nhtsa’s probe last fall, it asked tesla and a dozen other automakers for information on how their level 2 systems operate.
nhtsa is also reviewing more than 100 other crashes that happened with teslas using autopilot but that did not involve first responder vehicles. its preliminary review of these incidents shows that in many case, the driver was "insufficiently responsive to the needs of the dynamic driving task." this is why nhtsa will use its investigation to assess "the technologies and methods [tesla uses] to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during autopilot operation."
a total of 830,000 tesla vehicles are part of the upgraded investigation. that includes all of tesla’s current models, including model s vehicles built between 2014 and 2021, model x (2015–2021), model 3 (2018–2021) and model y (2020–2021). nhtsa's documents say it is aware of 15 injuries and one fatality related to the autopilot first responder problem.
sen. ed markey of massachusetts tweeted that he’s glad nhtsa is escalating its probe, because "every day that tesla disregards safety rules and misleads the public about its 'autopilot' system, our roads become more dangerous."
tesla ceo elon musk is still touting the benefits of full self-driving (fsd) and announced the expansion of the latest beta software to 100,000 cars earlier this month on twitter. he claimed that the new update will be able to "handle roads with no map data at all" and that "within a few months, fsd should be able to drive to a gps point with zero map data."