NHTSA asks Tesla why it didn’t initiate a recall when it pushed safety-related software update

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  • The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is asking Tesla to explain why it did not initiate a recall in September for providing safety-related software updates to customers.
  • The software update enabled Tesla cars to better detect flashing, emergency vehicle lights in low light conditions.
  • Earlier, NHTSA launched an investigation into Tesla Autopilot over possible safety flaws.

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A federal vehicle safety authority is asking Tesla to explain why it did not initiate the recall in September to push safety-related software updates to customers.

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The update enabled Tesla vehicles to better detect emergency vehicle lights in low light conditions, according to a letter Tesla from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was published Wednesday on the government agency’s website.

Tesla’s “Emergency Light Detection Update” was delivered via over-the-air software updates to customers’ cars after NHTSA began investigating potential safety flaws with Tesla Autopilot, the company’s standard, driver assistance package. .

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Tesla sells a premium version of its driver assistance system under the FSD, or Full Self-Driving brand name, for $10,000 up front, or $199 per month. No system from Tesla makes its cars safe for use without a human driver behind the wheel at all times. They are “Level 2” driver assistance systems, not fully autonomous vehicle technologies.

As Businesshala previously reported, NHTSA identified about a dozen collisions that involved Tesla drivers who crashed into first responders’ vehicles while they were parked on the side of the road, usually at night or early in the morning. in earlier hours. In each incident identified by the NHTSA, Tesla drivers had Autopilot or traffic aware cruise control features engaged prior to the accident. One of the accidents died.

NHTSA wants to know whether autopilot defects or design issues contributed to or caused those crashes. And now they also want to know whether Tesla’s software update effectively works as a stealth recall.

If the agency finds Autopilot to be faulty, it could recall and affect Tesla’s public image. Such a finding could inspire greater urgency around the rating and regulation of driver assistance systems like Tesla’s.

Currently, NHTSA issues an annual New Car Assessment Program (NCAP) rating on the crash-worthiness of vehicles sold in the US. The NCAP rating lists the features that are included in each vehicle, but the agency does not yet limit the safety or use of driver assistance systems like Tesla’s.

As part of its Tesla investigation, NHTSA is evaluating comparable systems from 12 other carmakers.

NHTSA’s Gregory Magno, head of the agency’s vehicle defects department, told Tesla’s field quality director Eddie Gates in a new letter that automakers are required to notify NHTSA within five business days after they become aware of safety issues. are (or should be aware of). their vehicles that need to be repaired.

Magno stressed that over-the-air software updates are covered by current federal recall laws.

The agency also asked Tesla for details about its expanded FSD beta program.

The program gives Tesla owners who are not trained safety drivers a chance to test out pre-release software and new driver assistance features on public roads in the US. The FSD beta software does not make Tesla vehicles driverless, and has not been sufficiently de-bugged for general use and wide release.

Among other things, NHTSA requested detailed records of how Tesla rates and selects participants in the experimental, early access program.

Recently, Tesla added a “beta button” that allows any customer to request access to the FSD beta download. It also released an insurance calculator that provides a “safety score” to drivers seeking an FSD beta.

Tesla owners who scored 100 runs in a week of driving at least 100 miles were asked to expand the program by about 1,000 people this week, according to CEO Elon Musk who commented on the number at an annual shareholder meeting last week. was granted access to the FSD beta.

Vehicle safety advocates, including the National Transportation Safety Board, have called on the NHTSA to regulate systems such as Tesla’s Autopilot, FSD and FSD beta as soon as possible.

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