The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said today it plans to launch a probe into Tesla’s driver assistance system Autopilot after repeated crashes with emergency vehicles.
The investigation will cover Tesla Models Y, X, S, and 3 vehicles released between 2014 and 2021, estimating 765,000 Tesla vehicles in the US to be involved in the probe.
The NHTSA will assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation.
The auto safety agency could opt to take no action or upgrade a preliminary investigation into an engineering analysis before ordering for a recall. The two-step investigation would take a year or more.
Tesla shares slipped as much as 5 per cent after the investigation was announced.
Autopilot handles some driving tasks and allows drivers to keep their hands off the wheel for extended periods in Tesla vehicles.
NHTSA said since January 2018 had identified 11 crashes in which Tesla models “have encountered first responder scenes and subsequently struck one or more vehicles involved with those scenes.”
Most of the reported crashes took place after dark, and the crash scenes encountered included measures like emergency vehicle lights, flares or road cones.
It reported 17 injuries and one death in those crashes.
The US National Transportation Safety Board criticised Tesla’s lack of system safeguards for Autopilot and NHTSA’s failure to ensure the safety of Autopilot.
Tesla’s chief executive Elon Musk has repeatedly defended Autopilot, saying, “Tesla with Autopilot engaged now approaching 10 times lower chance of accident than average vehicle” in a tweet this April.