The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating the carmaker’s use of recent software updates, nondisclosure agreements
Tesla’s update, released in late September for at least some vehicles, was intended to improve the ability of vehicles running on Autopilot to detect flashing emergency lights, the agency said. Tesla made the change nearly a month after NHTSA launched an investigation into Autopilot following a series of accidents involving Tesla and one or more parked emergency vehicles. The autopilot is designed to help with highway steering and to help adjust the car’s speed to the speed of other vehicles on the road.
The NHTSA said that any manufacturer that releases a software update designed to mitigate a defect “that poses an unreasonable risk to automotive safety” is required to file a recall notice with the agency. That paperwork is due within five business days of when a company should or should become aware of the defect.
Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company has said that driving with autopilot is safer than doing it without it.
In a separate letter made public on Wednesday, the auto-safety regulator criticized Tesla’s efforts to limit public discussion about a driver-assistance device intended to help drivers navigate cities. Tesla had been testing the feature with a small group of employees and customers and recently began expanding access to those who purchased a package that Tesla called “full self-driving capability.” Full self-driving doesn’t make cars autonomous.
The agency said, “Given that NHTSA relies on consumer reports as an important source of information in evaluating potential security flaws, any agreement that participants in the early access beta release program report security concerns to NHTSA can prevent or refuse to do, is unacceptable.”
Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk said at a conference last month that non-disclosure agreements may not be necessary.
NHTSA also requested copies of any non-disclosure agreements signed by those who had early access to Tesla’s City Driving facility. NHTSA said a response to those documents as well as questions related to Tesla’s emergency-light-detection update is due on Nov.
Tesla has faced criticism from other security officials. Jennifer Homendy, who leads the National Transportation Safety Board, told Businesshala last month that Tesla should not roll out its city-driving tool before addressing what the agency views as safety shortcomings in the company’s technology . The NTSB investigates accidents but does not have regulatory authority.
Rebecca Elliot [email protected] Feather