The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is on the brink of wrapping up its two-year-long investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system, and an official announcement might be imminent, according to the agency’s Acting Administrator Ann Carlson. The NHTSA’s determination to reach a resolution in the Tesla probe was confirmed during an interview at the agency’s headquarters.
Broadening the discussion to encompass advanced driver assistance systems, Carlson emphasized the critical role of driver vigilance. She also stressed the importance of driver monitoring systems accommodating the tendency of humans to overly trust technology.
Although Carlson refrained from divulging the specific outcome of the Tesla investigation, she hinted at a potential forthcoming announcement. Notably, Tesla has yet to respond to inquiries regarding the matter.
The core focal point of the NHTSA’s investigation revolves around the performance of Tesla’s Autopilot feature, particularly its role in a series of collisions involving stationary emergency vehicles. Furthermore, the agency is scrutinizing whether Tesla’s vehicles effectively ensure that drivers remain attentive while utilizing the driver assistance system.
Earlier in June 2022, the NHTSA elevated its initial inquiry, initiated in August 2021, into an engineering analysis encompassing 830,000 Tesla vehicles—a pivotal precursor to a potential recall directive. Last month, the agency requested updated information and current data from Tesla as part of its ongoing investigation.
Autopilot is designed to enable vehicles to autonomously navigate within lanes, encompassing functions like steering, acceleration, and braking. Meanwhile, enhanced Autopilot facilitates lane changes on highways.
In a separate vein, NHTSA has launched over three dozen special crash investigations since 2016, focusing on cases involving Tesla’s Autopilot and analogous driver systems. These investigations were prompted by concerns that such systems might have contributed to accidents, resulting in a total of 23 reported fatalities.
Addressing the intricacy of the Autopilot investigation due to the substantial number of crashes under scrutiny, Carlson acknowledged the complexity, affirming that proactive efforts are being pursued.
NHTSA has previously voiced reservations about the efficacy of Tesla’s alert strategy, aimed at ensuring driver attention. Notably, observations made in 2022 revealed that numerous previous crashes involved vehicles lacking driver engagement or alerts until moments before collisions. Some instances documented no visual or auditory alerts during the final stages of Autopilot use.
A prior Autopilot investigation by NHTSA in 2017 concluded without subsequent action. However, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) criticized both Tesla’s absence of system safeguards for Autopilot and NHTSA’s perceived failure to ensure its safety. NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy urged NHTSA to mandate automakers to incorporate safeguards limiting the use of automated vehicle control systems to intended conditions.