Technology Tesla recalls 2 million vehicles over crash fears

Tesla recalls 2 million vehicles over crash fears

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Tesla will issue updates to more than 2 million cars to prevent drivers abusing its Autopilot system after hundreds of crashes occurred when using the technology, some of them fatal.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the electric car maker would make changes amid concerns that motorists were not paying attention to the road when the system is activated.

It comes after a two-year investigation into Teslas crashing into emergency vehicles when the Autopilot function was activated.

Autopilot, which maintains speed in traffic and can steer on bends in the road, has faced multiple safety investigations and has been criticised for encouraging Tesla owners to place too much faith in the driver assistance technology.

At least 736 crashes, 17 of them fatal, have involved Autopilot since 2019, according to figures from the safety regulator. 

The numbers have increased dramatically in the last two years, as drivers were given access to a more capable “Full Self Driving” system.

Elon Musk, Tesla’s chief executive, has insisted that making the system widely available is justified and that the technology results in fewer crashes than when humans are behind the wheel.

Autopilot requires drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and warns them to stay alert and in control of the car, but the safety agency said the current level of controls “may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse”.

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Tesla has been criticised by US Transport Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who has suggested the Autopilot branding is misleading.

The NHTSA’s investigation came after it found 11 cases of cars hitting emergency vehicles, such as hitting a stationary police car with its emergency lights on and speeding through a road closure into an empty police vehicle. Tesla warns customers that its cars may be unable to detect emergency vehicles.

The NHTSA said Tesla would include additional controls, for example making visual alerts more prominent, making it easier to turn the Autosteer function on and off, and deactivating the function if drivers fail to show they are driving responsibly.

The update will apply to all 2 million cars sold featuring the Autopilot technology in the US sold since 2012. It is unclear if it will apply to cars sold overseas.

The agency said that Tesla had not agreed with its analysis that the Autopilot system was not preventing misuse, but had agreed to the update to resolve the issue. It said it would keep the investigation open to monitor how the fixes work.

“Automated technology holds great promise for improving safety, but only when it is deployed responsibly,” the NHTSA said. “Today’s action is an example of improving automated systems by prioritising safety.”

Autopilot was sold as an additional extra until 2019 but now comes as standard, with Tesla now selling access to a more advanced Full Self Driving system that is only activated in North America.

It is the second recall update this year involving Tesla’s driver assistance system. In February, it was forced to update 360,000 cars amid fears the Full Self Driving software meant cars were speeding through junctions.

The US Securities and Exchange Commission is investigating whether Mr Musk has made inappropriate predictions about the company’s Full Self Driving technology.

The NHTSA has a separate probe into claims that Autopilot leads to sudden braking on motorways.

Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.

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