US agency upgrades Tesla Autopilot safety probe, steps before possible recall

WASHINGTON, June 9 (Reuters) – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said on Thursday that it is upgrading its probe to 830,000 Tesla (TSLA.O) vehicles with the advanced driver assistance system Autopilot, a necessary step before they can seek a memorial .

The car safety agency in August opened a preliminary evaluation to assess the performance of the system in 765,000 vehicles after about a dozen accidents in which Tesla vehicles hit stopped emergency vehicles – and said on Thursday that they had identified six additional accidents.

NHTSA is upgrading its probe to an engineering analysis, which it must do before requiring recall if deemed necessary.

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The car safety regulator assesses whether Tesla vehicles adequately ensure that drivers are alert. The agency added evidence that in most of the accidents under review, drivers had complied with Tesla’s warning strategy, which seeks to draw drivers’ attention and raises questions about efficiency.

In 2020, the National Transportation Safety Board criticized Tesla’s “ineffective monitoring of driver involvement” after a fatal autopilot crash in 2018, saying NHTSA had given “little oversight”.

The NHTSA said the upgrade is “expanding the existing collision analysis, evaluating additional datasets, performing vehicle evaluations and exploring the extent to which autopilot and associated Tesla systems can aggravate human factors or behavioral safety hazards by undermining the effectiveness of driver oversight.”

Tesla, which has dissolved its press offices, did not respond to a request for comment.

NHTSA said it had reports of 16 accidents, including seven accidents and one death, involving Tesla vehicles in the autopilot that had hit stationary first-responder and road maintenance vehicles.

Democratic Senator Ed Markey praised NHTSA’s upgrade. “Every day Tesla ignores safety rules and misleads the public about the ‘Autopilot’ system, our roads become more dangerous,” he wrote on Twitter.

NHTSA said that their analysis indicated that forward collision warnings were activated in most incidents just before the collision and that subsequent automatic emergency braking intervened in about half of the accidents.

“On average in these crashes, the autopilot interrupted the vehicle check less than one second before the first collision,” the agency added.

NHTSA noted that “where incident video was available, the approach to the first responding scene would have been visible to the driver an average of 8 seconds before the collision.”

The agency also reviewed 106 reported autopilot crashes and said in about half, “there were indications that the driver was not sufficiently responsive to the needs of the dynamic driving task.”

“A driver’s use or misuse of vehicle components, or the unintentional use of a vehicle, does not necessarily preclude a system failure,” the agency said.

NHTSA also found in about a quarter of the 106 accidents, that the primary collision factor appeared to be related to the operation of the system where Tesla states that there may be restrictions on places other than restricted highways, or in visibility environments involving factors such as rain. , snow or ice.

Tesla says that Autopilot allows the vehicles to brake and steer automatically within their lane, but does not enable them to drive themselves.

An NHTSA spokesman said that advanced driving assistance features can promote safety “by helping drivers avoid crashes and reduce the severity of crashes that occur, but as with all technology and equipment on motor vehicles, drivers must use them properly and responsibly.”

Last week, NHTSA said it asked Tesla to answer questions by June 20 after receiving 758 reports of unexpected brake activation related to autopilot in its separate survey of 416,000 newer vehicles.

Separately, NHTSA has opened 35 special collision investigations of incidents involving Tesla vehicles, in which autopilot or other advanced systems were suspected of use with 14 reported deaths since 2016, including a crash that killed three last month in California.

NHTSA asked a dozen other automakers, including General Motors (GM.N) Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) and Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) to answer questions about “driver engagement and attention strategies” using Tesla probe driver assistance systems. but have not released their answers.

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Reporting by David Shepardson; Edited by Bill Berkrot, Bernadette Baum and Chizu Nomiyama

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