WASHINGTON: US auto safety regulators said yesterday they had opened a formal safety probe into Tesla’s driver assistance system Autopilot after a series of crashes involving emergency vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said since January 2018 it had identified 11 crashes in which Tesla models “have encountered first responder scenes and subsequently struck one or more vehicles involved with those scenes.”
After investigating, NHTSA could opt to take no action, or it could demand a recall, which might effectively impose limits on how, when and where Autopilot operates. Any restrictions could narrow the competitive gap between Tesla’s system and similar advanced driver assistance systems offered by established carmakers.
The auto safety agency said it had reports of 17 injuries and one death in those crashes.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Chief executive Elon Musk has repeatedly defended Autopilot and in April tweeted that “Tesla with Autopilot engaged now approaching 10 times lower chance of accident than average vehicle.”
NHTSA said the 11 crashes included four this year, most recently one last month in San Diego, and it had opened a preliminary evaluation of Autopilot in 2014-2021 Tesla Models Y, X, S, and 3.
“The involved subject vehicles were all confirmed to have been engaged in either Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control during the approach to the crashes,” NHTSA said in a document opening the investigation.
The probe covers an estimated 765,000 Tesla vehicles in the US.