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US regulators have requested additional information from Tesla as part of their ongoing investigation into 830,000 Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot, the company’s advanced driver assistance system.
On July 3, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent a letter to Tesla, seeking updated responses to inquiries it had made in August 2022. Specifically, the questions were related to Tesla’s cabin camera and driver monitoring system, which the automaker claims can detect when a driver is not paying attention and issue noise alerts to remind them to focus on the road while Autopilot is active. The NHTSA also requested information about Tesla’s quarterly safety reports.
Tesla has until July 19 to provide the requested information, based on current data, as stipulated by the agency. However, Tesla has not commented on the matter.
According to data compiled until December 2022, since 2016, the NHTSA has initiated 41 special crash investigations involving Tesla vehicles where Autopilot was suspected to have been in use. These crashes resulted in 19 reported fatalities.
Autopilot offers certain automated driving features, such as lane-keeping, automatic acceleration, and braking on highways. Enhanced Autopilot can also assist with lane changes. Tesla’s latest software version, “Full Self-Driving” beta (FSD), combines these capabilities with city driving features like responding to traffic signals, stop signs, and making turns. However, it is important to note that neither Autopilot nor FSD are fully self-driving systems, and Tesla advises drivers to remain alert and ready to take control of the vehicle if necessary.
Despite these warnings, Tesla has faced repeated lawsuits and criticism regarding its marketing practices, which some claim give drivers a false sense of security and lead to inattentiveness.
In 2022, the NHTSA found that nine out of eleven vehicles involved in crashes did not provide visual or audio alerts to the driver until the last minute before a collision, and four vehicles did not provide any alerts at all. The agency’s letter requests updates from Tesla on any changes made to its driver engagement or attentiveness systems. It also asks for data regarding the number of vehicles equipped with “Tesla Vision,” which refers to vehicles equipped solely with cameras and no other sensors, and whether those vehicles also feature the cabin camera system.
Tesla introduced its camera-based driver monitoring system in May 2021, replacing a system that relied on detecting the driver’s hands on the steering wheel to gauge attentiveness. The previous system was susceptible to bypassing, as some drivers were using devices like “Tesla weights” purchased from online marketplaces like Alibaba.