The US government has opened a formal investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot partially automated driving system, after a series of collisions with parked emergency vehicles.
- Autopilot has been blamed for 17 injuries and one death
- The investigation covers almost all Tesla cars sold in the US since 2014
- Autopilot has been frequently misused by Tesla drivers
The investigation covers 765,000 vehicles, almost everything that Tesla — which was founded by Elon Musk — has sold in the US since the start of the 2014 model year.
Of the crashes identified by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) as part of the probe, 17 people were injured and one was killed.
NHTSA said it had identified 11 crashes since 2018 in which Teslas on Autopilot or in Traffic Aware Cruise Control had hit vehicles at scenes where first responders used flashing lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board or cones warning of hazards.
The agency announced the action on Monday in a posting on its website.
The probe is another sign that the NHTSA under President Joe Biden is taking a tougher stance on automated vehicle safety than under previous administrations.
Previously the agency was reluctant to regulate the new technology for fear of hampering adoption of the potentially life-saving systems.
The investigation covers Tesla’s entire current model line-up, the Models Y, X, S and 3 from the 2014 through 2021 model years.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), which has also investigated some of the Tesla crashes dating to 2016, has recommended that NHTSA and Tesla limit Autopilot’s use to areas where it can safely operate.
The NTSB also recommended that NHTSA require Tesla to have a better system to make sure drivers are paying attention.
NHTSA has not taken action on any of the recommendations. The NTSB has no enforcement powers and can only make recommendations to other federal agencies.
“Today’s action by NHTSA is a positive step forward for safety,” NTSB chair Jennifer L Homendy said in a statement.
“As we navigate the emerging world of advanced driving assistance systems, it’s important that NHTSA has insight into what these vehicles can, and cannot, do.”
Autopilot has frequently been misused by Tesla drivers, who have been caught driving drunk or even, in one case, riding in the back seat while a car rolled down a California highway.
Tesla, which has disbanded its media relations office, has been contacted for comment.