Tesla autopilot faces US investigation after 11 crashes, CEO Elon Musk defends

US safety officials have opened a preliminary investigation into Tesla’s autopilot after identifying 11 accidents involving the driver assistance system, officials said on Monday.

Incidents dating back to 2018 included one fatal accident and seven that resulted in injuries to 17 people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The agency “is committed to ensuring the highest standards of road safety in the country,” a spokesman said, and to “better understand the causes of certain Tesla accidents, NHTSA is opening a preliminary assessment of autopilot systems. from Tesla.”

Tesla founder Elon Musk defended the Autopilot system and the automaker warns that it requires “active driver supervision” at the wheel.

But critics, including in Congress, say the system can be easily fooled and that the system’s name gives drivers a false sense of confidence. They called for the NHTSA to take action.

Tesla did not respond to an AFP request for comment.

The accidents cited by NHTSA involved incidents in which “several Tesla models crashed” in instances where first responders were involved, including “some that collided directly with first responders’ vehicles,” said the NHTSA spokesperson.

Three of the accidents occurred in California, while others happened in Florida, Texas and Massachusetts, and other states. The probe covers models Y, X, S and 3, the agency said.

“NHTSA reminds the public that no commercially available motor vehicle today is capable of driving alone,” the spokesperson said.

“Certain advanced driving assistance features can promote safety by helping drivers avoid accidents and mitigate the severity of accidents that occur, but as with all technology and equipment in motor vehicles, drivers must use them correctly and responsible.”

News of the investigation sent Tesla’s shares down sharply on Monday.

Investigations like the one announced on Monday sometimes lead to recalls. In June, Tesla recalled more than 285,000 cars in China due to problems with the cruise control system that authorities said could lead to collisions.

However, analysts said such a recall could involve a software update rather than a hardware change that requires costly equipment upgrades.

pushing the limits

Musk has a history of conflict with regulators, but the controversies had little effect on Tesla’s rise in the past year and a half, when the company met key production targets.

His achievement in transforming Tesla from a startup into a forerunner in the electric car market stands as a success, as other electric car startups like Lordstown Motors and Nikola have stumbled.

At the same time, Musk provoked a backlash from critics by pushing or flouting the rules on everything from using social media to discuss Tesla’s operations to his response to COVID-19 health protocols required by local authorities near the California plant. .

The Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit group, has pressured US authorities since 2018 to ban the name “Autopilot”, considering the nickname misleading.

Jason Levine, the center’s executive director, welcomed the news of the NHTSA investigation, but said it should go “far beyond” accidents involving first-response vehicles “because the danger is to all drivers, passengers and pedestrians when on autopilot is enabled,” he said in an email to AFP.

“Whether the autopilot needs to be disabled or requires the use of driver monitoring systems to avoid these accidents is a matter for the NHTSA,” said Levine. “But there is no doubt that something needs to be done quickly to prevent further injuries and deaths.”

Morningstar analyst Seth Goldstein said the most likely outcome of the investigation will be the need for a software update and additional warnings about autopilot limits.

“We think the incidents highlight Tesla’s need to continue to improve its standalone software before the company sees a big increase in revenue from its fully standalone subscription-based software,” Goldstein said in a statement.

Consumer Reports magazine testers demonstrated in a video that the Autopilot can be tricked into driving with no one behind the wheel, a ploy also shown in videos widely viewed on TikTok and other social media platforms.

In April, Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Ed Markey of Massachusetts urged the NHTSA to investigate a fatal accident in Texas involving a Tesla after police said there was no driver behind the wheel.

Tesla said it doesn’t believe the April accident involved autopilot.

Tesla shares fell 4.3% to close at $686.17 (about Rs.50,980 million).


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