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Tesla recalls 2 million vehicles to fix Autopilot safety

A two-year US regulatory probe found Autopilot’s method of making sure that drivers are paying attention can be inadequate and can lead to ‘foreseeable misuse of the system’

Tesla recalls 2 million vehicles to fix Autopilot safety
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

American electric car manufacturer Tesla is recalling more than 2 million vehicles it sold in the US to update software after a regulator found Autopilot, a self-driving feature, unsafe.

The recall will apply to Model S, Model X, Model 3, and Model Y. These models’ production goes back to October 2012 and will apply to all vehicles produced till 7 December this year. All new vehicles in production will also get the updated software.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said a two-year investigation found Autopilot’s method of making sure that drivers are paying attention can be inadequate and can lead to “foreseeable misuse of the system.”

“In certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse of the SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance feature,” documents posted by NHTSA said. 

The investigation opened on 13 August 2021 and probed 11 incidents involving stationary first-responder vehicles and Tesla vehicles that were operating with Autopilot engaged. Tesla fully cooperated with the probe, responded to extensive information requests from NHTSA, and participated in several meetings, the agency said. 

The software update, the agency said, will limit where Autosteer can be used. 

If the driver attempts to engage Autosteer when conditions are not met for engagement, the feature will alert the driver it is unavailable through visual and audible alerts, and Autosteer will not engage, the NHTSA documents said.

The update will increase warnings and alerts to drivers and even limit the areas where basic versions of Autopilot can operate, the agency said.

“The remedy will incorporate additional controls and alerts to those already existing on affected vehicles to further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility whenever Autosteer is engaged, which includes keeping their hands on the steering wheel and paying attention to the roadway,” the documents said.

Tesla said Autopilot is an advanced driver assistance system that enhances safety and convenience behind the wheel. It includes Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control. According to Tesla, Autosteer builds upon Traffic-Aware Cruise Control, keeping the car in its driving lane when cruising at a set speed. Autosteer also allows drivers to use turn signals to move vehicles into an adjacent lane, detecting lane markings and the presence of vehicles and objects. 

Autopilot comes with a warning that it does not make driving autonomous. “You must pay attention to the road, keep your hands on the steering wheel at all times, and remain aware of your navigation route,” Tesla said on its website. 

“Autopilot, Enhanced Autopilot, and Full Self-Driving Capability are intended for use with a fully attentive driver, who has hands on the wheel and is prepared to take over at any moment. While these features are designed to become more capable over time, the currently enabled features do not make the vehicle autonomous,” Tesla said.

Critics argue that Tesla should not call its software Autopilot because the cars cannot drive themselves. 

Tesla said on X, formerly Twitter, that its “safety metrics are emphatically stronger when Autopilot is engaged than when not engaged.”

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