According to a recent article by Automotive News, the US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has upgraded its probe into Tesla's Autopilot driver-assist technology. Moreover, the investigation has been expanded to reach some 830,000 Tesla cars and SUVs.
Back in August 2021, NHTSA opened the original probe into Tesla's advanced driver-assist systems due to reports of 12 crashes on our shores. The crashes left 17 people injured, and sadly, there was one related fatality.
Since the investigation began, the number of reported Tesla crashes that may have involved Autopilot has risen to 16. Automotive News says the crashes are related to the driver-assist system driving near emergency vehicles and failing to avoid colliding with them or other nearby vehicles.
When NHTSA opened the initial investigation, it covered some 765,000 Tesla vehicles. All four current models were included, with model years ranging from 2014 to 2021.
Based on information gleaned from a new NHTSA Office of Defects Investigation document, the safety regulators are now opening an engineering analysis to further explore what may have happened in the related incidents. More specifically, NHTSA aims to learn if and how Autopilot impacted the driver's awareness and the events leading to the accidents.
NHTSA writes that the purpose of the engineering analysis is to:
"extend the existing crash analysis, evaluate additional data sets, perform vehicle evaluations and to 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 what it has learned so far, NHTSA says that Tesla's forward collision warning system was active prior to most of the crashes. In addition, the agency shares that automatic emergency braking engaged in about half of the incidents. However, NHTSA also adds that "on average," Tesla's Autopilot features disengaged "less than one second prior to the first impact."
NHTSA's current findings come from a thorough review of over 100 Tesla crashes where Autopilot or Full Self-Driving capability was likely active. The agency also looked into the information provided by 12 different automakers related to various driver-assist systems.
The safety regulators warn consumers that there is not currently a vehicle on the market with the capability to drive itself without human monitoring and interaction. It adds that such features can make cars safer, but only if drivers use them in a responsible manner, as specified by the automakers. If NHTSA finds that Tesla's vehicles and related technology have any defects, it will issue a recall.