NHTSA investigates Tesla’s driver monitoring for Autopilot crashes

NHTSA investigates Tesla's driver monitoring for Autopilot crashes

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced that it is in contact with Tesla (NASDAQ: TSLA) regarding a tweet by CEO Elon Musk regarding a driver monitoring function. Musk had suggested that Tesla drivers with over 10,000 miles using the Full Self-Driving (FSD) software system should be able to disable the steering wheel nag, an alert that reminds drivers to hold the wheel in order to confirm they are paying attention. In response, Musk stated that an update would be coming in January.

NHTSA has stated that it is “gathering additional information” in connection to its ongoing defect probe into 830,000 Tesla vehicles with driver assistance system Autopilot and involving crashes with parked emergency vehicles. The agency is reviewing whether Tesla vehicles sufficiently ensure that drivers are paying attention, and has previously said that evidence suggests that drivers in most crashes under review had complied with Tesla’s alert strategy that seeks to compel driver attention, raising questions about its effectiveness.

Tesla sells the $15,000 FSD software as an add-on, which enables its vehicles to change lanes and park autonomously. This feature complements its standard “Autopilot” feature, which enables cars to steer, accelerate and brake within their lanes without driver intervention. Both of these systems utilize the steering wheel monitoring function.

Last month, NHTSA revealed that it had opened two new special investigations into crashes involving Tesla vehicles where advanced driver assistance systems are suspected to have been in use. Since 2016, NHTSA has opened more than three dozen Tesla special crash investigations where advanced driver assistance systems such as Autopilot were suspected of being used with 19 crash deaths reported.

In December 2021, NHTSA also opened a probe into Tesla’s decision to allow games to be played by passengers on the front center touchscreen of over 580,000 vehicles over the vehicle’s “Passenger Play” feature due to driver distraction concerns. After the investigation was opened, Tesla informed NHTSA that it would stop allowing video games to be played on vehicle screens while its cars are in motion.

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