US agency seeks updated responses from Tesla in Autopilot probe

U.S. auto safety regulators are requesting updated information and current data from Tesla regarding an ongoing investigation into 830,000 Tesla vehicles and the company’s Autopilot driver assistance system. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent a letter to Tesla on July 3, asking for updates on previously raised questions and demanding answers by July 19.

The investigation focuses on the performance of Autopilot and its involvement in a series of accidents where Tesla vehicles collided with stationary emergency vehicles. The NHTSA is also examining whether Tesla’s driver assistance system adequately ensures that drivers remain attentive while using it.

Autopilot is designed to enable cars to autonomously steer, accelerate, and brake within their lane, while enhanced Autopilot assists with lane changes on highways. Tesla’s Full Self-Driving Capability Features allow vehicles to follow traffic signals and stop signs but do not make them fully autonomous.

The NHTSA has expressed concerns about the effectiveness of Tesla’s driver attention alerts. According to their findings in 2022, a majority of vehicles involved in previous crashes showed little to no driver engagement or received visual or auditory alerts until just before the collision.

The recent letter from the NHTSA seeks updates on any changes Tesla has made regarding driver engagement and attentiveness. The agency previously upgraded the investigation to an engineering analysis in June 2022, which is a necessary step before potentially demanding a recall.

One aspect of the investigation involves Tesla’s cabin camera, positioned above the rearview mirror, which Tesla claims can detect driver inattentiveness and issue audible alerts to keep the driver focused on the road while Autopilot is active. The new letter from the NHTSA requests data on the number of vehicles equipped with “Tesla Vision” (cameras only, without radar) and whether those vehicles have the cabin camera system installed.

Since 2016, the NHTSA has initiated 40 special crash investigations involving Tesla vehicles with advanced driver assistance systems, including Autopilot, resulting in 20 reported fatalities.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg expressed concerns in May about the interaction between Autopilot and drivers.


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