The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) sent a letter containing a “Special Order” to Tesla regarding the Autopilot investigation launched in 2021, upgrading the probe from the status of “Preliminary Evaluation.“
According to the official letter, first seen by Bloomberg, the NHTSA said it has become aware that Tesla introduced a workaround through a software update that allows drivers using Autopilot to go on the road for long distances without the system telling the person in the driver’s seat to apply torque to the steering wheel.
“Recently, NHTSA became aware that Tesla has introduced an Autopilot configuration that, when enabled, allows drivers using Autopilot to operate their vehicles for extended periods without Autopilot prompting the driver to apply torque to the steering wheel,” the agency wrote in the letter. “NHTSA is concerned that this feature was introduced to consumer vehicles and, now that the existence of this feature is known to the public, more drivers may attempt to activate it. The resulting relaxation of controls designed to ensure that the driver remains engaged in the dynamic driving task could lead to greater driver inattention and failure of the driver to properly supervise Autopilot.”
The agency’s letter is dated July 26 and asks Tesla to respond by August 25 (which was last week) by submitting a series of documents for examination, to find out if the aforementioned feature could be used to subvert efforts to keep drivers alert and ready to take control of the car.
It’s unclear if the Austin-based EV maker complied with the deadline, but the letter states that failure to do so can result in fines of up to $26,315 per day.
According to Teslarati, among the documents Tesla was required to submit to the NHTSA are details and dates of software updates, documents explaining the subject software’s functionality, and crash and incident reports from collisions or near-misses involving vehicles with software update enabled, among other things.
The agency’s Autopilot probe that was launched in August 2021 is just one of the multiple investigations regarding Tesla products, with regulators looking into potential problems with steering wheels, driver assistance systems, and seat belts.