Tesla — where prominent billionaire Elon Musk is CEO — has been placed under an expanded investigation by the federal entity known as the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) over the autopilot features in company-produced cars. As explained by The New York Times, the agency behind this probe will be looking into whether there’s a threat to safety posed by the autopilot system.
As explained by The Verge, the federal investigation into Tesla is now formally an “Engineering Analysis,” which is the final investigative stage before a potential recall. It would seem as though that potential recall could affect large numbers of the company’s vehicles — 830,000 vehicles (with model years from 2014 to 2021) sold across the United States are covered by the probe. Additional investigative efforts into Tesla’s autopilot system will “explore the degree to which Autopilot and associated Tesla systems may exacerbate human factors or behavioral safety risks by undermining the effectiveness of the driver’s supervision,” according to the investigating federal agency.
More than a dozen wrecks involving Teslas with drivers using the autopilot features who hit emergency vehicles that weren’t moving are driving the federal probe. There’s at least one death connected to these incidents. Besides the incidents involving non-moving emergency vehicles, “NHTSA indicated that the [preliminary evaluation] would also evaluate additional similar circumstance crashes of Tesla vehicles operating with Autopilot engaged, as well as assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot,” the agency said, discussing their initial probe of the matter, which started last August. The newly upgraded engineering analysis will, besides the examination of the autopilot system’s impact on drivers’ handling of the car, “extend the existing crash analysis, evaluate additional datasets, [and] perform vehicle evaluations,” authorities added.
During earlier stages of its investigation, the agency identified 191 vehicle wrecks involving the usage of a Tesla autopilot system or an associated feature where “the crash scenarios appeared characteristic of broader patterns of reported crashes or complaints in the full incident data,” as the agency explained it. After initial examinations, 85 of those incidents were removed from consideration. The remaining over 100 crashes included roughly half where available evidence suggested the driver was “insufficiently responsive to the needs of the dynamic driving task (DDT),” as the agency explained — seemingly mirroring the same sorts of concerns identified in the agency’s broad summary of its worries.
The stock price for Tesla has dramatically fluctuated throughout the course of recent months. On Thursday afternoon, it was around 39 percent lower than where it started the year. The company recently sustained another corporate defeat: in California, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kaus rejected a push by Tesla to move a case alleging consistent sexual harassment at the company into private arbitration. Jessica Barraza, who brought the lawsuit against the company, “said in a proposed class-action complaint that she experienced “nightmarish” conditions as a night-shift worker at Tesla’s Fremont, California, plant,” as Bloomberg recaps.