Tesla on Tuesday recalled more than two million cars and agreed to fix its software to make sure drivers pay attention to the road when using its Autopilot system.
The recall of Tesla, the world’s dominant electric car company, was the fourth in less than two years and the most important to date. It covers almost all the cars the company sells in the United States, including the most popular Model Y SUV.
The recall follows an investigation into Autopilot launched by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in August 2021 after a series of crashes involving the technology. Autopilot is designed to steer, brake, and accelerate vehicles on their own on highways. In the latest recall, Tesla made clear that it disagreed with the agency’s assessment of the system. The regulatory body said its investigations would continue.
“It is important that NHTSA keep this investigation open to see if the changes actually reduce risks,” said Matthew Wansley, a professor at Cardozo Law School in New York who specializes in emerging automotive technologies.
The investigation is the most prominent example of the broader push and pull between government regulators and a wide range of companies developing technologies that allow vehicles to drive on their own in certain situations.
In October, California regulators ordered Cruise, a subsidiary of General Motors, to halt its self-driving taxi service in San Francisco after a series of traffic accidents, including one in which a Cruise vehicle pulled a pedestrian 20 feet after… Its collision. Since then, the company has suspended operations across the country.
Tesla’s latest Autopilot update will add new, more prominent visual alerts and checks to the Autosteer function that’s part of Autopilot. There may be an “increased risk of a collision.” Safety department saidwhen Autosteer is operated and drivers do not bear “responsibility for operating the vehicle.”
The agency said that in August 2021, it began investigating 11 incidents involving Tesla vehicles that were operating with Autosteer. A series of meetings between the agency and Tesla followed, and this month the company decided to conduct a voluntary recall.
Tesla’s recent recall does not end the agency’s investigation, which has entered its third year, according to the American “Space” website. Message to Tesla From the safety department.
“Automated technology holds great promise for improving safety, but only when it is deployed responsibly,” the agency said in a statement to The New York Times. “Today’s action is an example of improving automated systems by prioritizing safety.”
Tesla CEO Elon Musk did not respond to a request for comment.
The safety agency said that, over the course of its investigation, it reviewed 956 crashes in which the autopilot was involved before focusing on 322 crashes, including frontal collisions and situations in which the autopilot may have been mistakenly engaged.
Tesla began issuing wireless software updates to some vehicles this week, safety officials said. The remaining vehicles will receive updates later, and all updates will be free for car owners.
The update will add controls and alerts to Autosteer. Depending on the hardware in the vehicle, some updated vehicles will have more prominent visual alerts as well as additional checks when using Autosteer. The feature will also be suspended if drivers repeatedly fail to use it responsibly.
Letters to Tesla owners notifying them of the update are expected to be mailed in February.
This week’s Tesla recall is the latest in a series of events that have put the automaker and its software in the spotlight. In October, a California jury found that the company’s driver-assistance software was not at fault in a crash that killed a Tesla owner and seriously injured two passengers.
The company has also faced a series of recalls. In May, China ordered Tesla to recall 1.1 million cars, citing a problem with the acceleration and braking systems in certain models manufactured in China and abroad.
A few months ago, Tesla recalled more than 362,000 cars equipped with its driver-assistance system for full self-driving, a more advanced technology than Autopilot, after government regulators found it increased the risk of crashes. With Full Self-Driving, Tesla seeks to expand self-driving beyond highways and onto city streets.
Safety officials said the more advanced system allows vehicles to travel above legal speed limits and through intersections in an “illegal and unpredictable manner.”
In early 2022, Tesla recalled 54,000 vehicles equipped with its Full Self-Driving software to disable a feature that allows vehicles in certain conditions to move slowly through intersections without a required stop.
Tesla sells Full Self-Driving separately from Autopilot. But the two services are supported by the same set of technologies. In the past, drivers who did not purchase the more advanced system were still able to use Autopilot on non-freeway roads.
The company’s latest recall explains that drivers will be alerted when they use Autopilot outside of highways where the technology is intended to work. But it’s unclear whether they will still be allowed to use the technology in these situations.
“NHTSA has forced Tesla to focus on the right issues,” Mr. Wansley said. “But it all depends on the details.”
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