NHTSA investigates safety of Tesla Autopilot

August 16, 2021

The U.S. auto safety agency NHTSA on Monday announced a probe to investigate Tesla Autopilot and the driver-assistance system's involvement in nearly a dozen crashes with emergency vehicles. 

The probe encompasses 765,000 vehicles made from 2014-2021, covering nearly every Tesla model, including the Model S, Model X, Model 3, and Model Y. The NHTSA said there were 11 crashes, 17 people injured, and one fatality from vehicles operating Autopilot and hitting one or more vehicles at scenes where first responders were present. Four of the crashes occurred this year and the NHTSA's investigation starts in 2018, when a Tesla operator using Autopilot hit a firetruck that was working on the scene of another crash.  

Most of the crashes at emergency scenes happened at night, when "first responder lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board, and road cones" were present, the NHTSA found. Autopilot lets drivers operate the vehicle hands-free for long stretches of time. 

"The investigation will assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver's engagement with the...Autopilot operation," the NHTSA said. 

The safety agency also reminded drivers that there are no vehicles on sale now that can drive themselves. Several viral posts on social media and news reports in high-profile crashes involving Autopilot have prompted safety agencies to take a harder stance on driver-assist features.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) last year called Tesla out for not informing customers of Autopilot's limitations. 

A safety probe conducted by the NHTSA typically leads to a recall or technical service bulletin, with a remedy paid by the automaker. 

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