(Washington Insider Magazine) – The United States government said Monday it’s opened a formal investigation into Tesla’s “Autopilot,” or partially automated driving system, after a series of crashes with parked emergency vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said it has identified 11 crashes since 2018 in which Teslas on Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control have hit vehicles with flashing lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board or cones warning of hazards.
The investigation covers 765,000 vehicles — or nearly every car that Tesla, the Elon Musk-led electric car company, has sold in the US since the start of the 2014 model year, including the Models Y, X, S and 3, the agency said.
“The investigation will assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation,” the NHTSA said in its investigation documents.
The investigation by the NHTSA could lead to a recall or other enforcement action.
Autopilot mode has become a major point of criticism for the electric car maker, with some drivers often posting videos of them misusing the so-called self-driving system.
Tesla and other car makers with partially automated driving systems have said drivers need to remain attentive and in the driver seat with hands on the wheel even when Autopilot is engaged, but videos have captured Tesla drivers asleep at the wheel or even sitting in the backseat with the car cruising down the highway.
The crashes into emergency vehicles that were cited by the NHTSA began on Jan. 22, 2018, in Culver City, California, when a Tesla in Autopilot mode struck a parked firetruck that was partially in the travel lanes with its lights flashing, the AP reported.
Since then, the NHTSA said, there were similar crashes in Laguna Beach, California; Norwalk, Connecticut; Cloverdale, Indiana; West Bridgewater, Massachusetts; Cochise County, Arizona; Charlotte, North Carolina, Montgomery County, Texas; Lansing, Michigan; and Miami, Florida.
The National Transportation Safety Board, which has also investigated some Tesla crashes in which Autopilot was allegedly engaged, has previously recommended that the NHTSA and Tesla limit the use of Autopilot to certain areas.
The NTSB also recommended that the NHTSA require Tesla to have a better system to make sure drivers are paying attention. The NHTSA has not yet taken action on any of the recommendations.
In June, federal safety regulators revealed they have opened 30 investigations into Tesla crashes that included 10 deaths since 2016 in which Autopilot mode was suspected to have been in use.