US investigates Tesla Autopilot over crashes with emergency services

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched an investigation into the operation of Tesla’s Autopilot software. The agency does this because of multiple crashes of Tesla cars with stationary emergency vehicles.

The NHTSA’s investigation focuses on the Tesla Model Y, X and S, which came on the market between 2014 and 2021. According to the agency, this concerns a total of about 765,000 cars. The research focuses on determining what technology and methods Tesla uses to force drivers to pay attention to their surroundings while driver assistance is on.

The agency will also investigate exactly how the object detection works and how the cars respond to it. It is the first time that there will be an investigation into the general functioning of Autopilot. Previously, research was done on specific cases.

The investigation is being launched after eleven incidents have been reported to the authority since January 2018 in which a Tesla using Autopilot functions such as Traffic-Aware Cruise Control was involved in a collision with a stationary emergency services vehicle. According to the NHTSA, these accidents often took place in the dark and emergency services used indications such as flashing lights, illuminated warning signs and traffic cones.

If drivers have enabled driver assistance, they are legally responsible for spotting danger on the road and anticipating it. According to experts, recognizing stationary vehicles is a common problem with driver assistance systems in cars. Wired wrote about that in 2018. Many stationary objects are ignored, because otherwise the systems would react to all kinds of static objects along the way.

Tesla Model S