In a web of investigations and controversies, Tesla’s road towards autonomous driving has taken a new turn. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been prompted by Tesla to withhold information about the involvement of driver-assistance software in crashes, a move scrutinized in The New Yorker’s recent exposé.
Elon Musk’s proclamations about the self-driving Teslas have set expectations ablaze. However, Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems have traversed a minefield of controversies and difficulties. Autopilot, a technology meant to lend a hand on highways, is a driver-assist software ingrained in all Tesla vehicles. In contrast, the Full Self-Driving system is a more advanced option, offering features like lane changes, stoplight recognition, and automated parking. The caveat emphasized by Tesla is that even with these capabilities in play, an unwaveringly attentive human driver should always retain control.
The curtain was pulled back in June when The Washington Post disclosed an alarming figure: 736 accidents involving Teslas in Autopilot mode, which unfolded since 2019, leading to a haunting tally of 17 lives lost. Further insights were laid bare by Steven Cliff, former deputy administrator of the NHTSA, who indicated that Tesla cars exhibited an unnaturally high propensity for run-ins with emergency vehicles. However, the enigma of guilt—whether human drivers or Tesla’s software—remains a puzzle yet unsolved by the agency.
The saga took a formal turn when the NHTSA initiated a comprehensive investigation in June 2021 into Tesla’s Autopilot system. This inquiry centered around 30 accidents that claimed ten lives between 2016 and 2021. Subsequently, the plot thickened as the NHTSA broadened its scope in August of the same year. It focused on 11 instances since 2018 wherein Tesla vehicles collided with other cars at first-responder scenes, resulting in injuries and fatalities.
This far-reaching scrutiny casts its net over a diverse spectrum of Tesla models produced between 2014 and 2021, encapsulating roughly 765,000 vehicles. Expanding its canvas further, the NHTSA, in June 2022, augmented its investigative ambit to encompass insights garnered from 830,000 Tesla vehicles. It’s a storyline not confined to the NHTSA, as the Department of Justice investigates Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving feature. Tesla confirms its cooperation by providing the requested documentation.
As the investigations continue to unfurl, the NHTSA spokesperson affirms the diversity of inquiries underway, underscoring the intricate maze of questions and concerns encircling Tesla’s enigmatic driver-assist technologies.