Smart Summon a Smart Idea? The NHTSA Wants to Know

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
smart summon a smart idea the nhtsa wants to know

For some strange reason, U.S. road safety regulators are showing an interest in a Tesla feature that allows driverless vehicles to navigate tight, crowded public spaces on their own — one Tesla admits “may not detect all obstacles.”

Clearly, by investigating reports of Tesla’s Smart Summon feature going awry, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is standing in the way of progress, or so some brand diehards would have you believe. To others, the agency’s scrutiny is overdue.

The NHTSA announced it was poring into reports of Smart Summon fails on Wednesday evening, nearly a week after Tesla’s latest software update delivered the feature to owners who opted for the Full Self Driving package at purchase time.

While Tesla CEO Elon Musk claims owners used the feature over half a million times within a few days, it’s the less-successful parking lot forays that the NHTSA’s worried about.

Designed to be used as a valet service in private parking lots and driveways, Smart Summon navigates the Tesla at low speeds to the owner’s location, with the car using the owner’s phone as a homing beacon. Users are warned to use the feature when no more than 200 feet from the car, and only when the vehicle is within their line of sight. As we showed you Saturday, those early experiments were not without drama.

One Model 3 nearly collided with an Acura MDX in a crowded parking lot, only coming to a halt after the owner took his finger off the phone app’s summon button. Another hit a garage wall in a video uploaded by the owner, while one owner claims their Tesla made contact with a vehicle that was in the process of backing up. Yet another video showed a Tesla that was unable to differentiate asphalt from grass.

As reported by Reuters, the NHTSA claims it “is aware of reports related to Tesla’s Summon feature. We are in ongoing contact with the company and we continue to gather information. Safety is NHTSA’s top priority and the agency will not hesitate to act if it finds evidence of a safety-related defect.”

Tesla issued the feature with appropriate warnings about owner vigilance and proper use, but the mere fact the feature exists — and could fall into the hands of a not-so-vigilant owner — is legitimate cause for concern. Just because the automaker tells users to be “especially careful around quick moving people, bicycles and cars” does not mean people will. Were a collision to happen, there’d be no one behind the wheel. Who’s at fault — the user, or the company behind the self-driving parking lot denizen?

You can be sure lawyers are salivating at the thought of seeking a pound of flesh from Tesla.

[Image: Tesla]

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2 of 11 comments
  • Art Vandelay Art Vandelay on Oct 03, 2019

    Those videos look more like an Alpha test...that stuff isn't even Beta test level.

  • R Henry R Henry on Oct 03, 2019

    RE: The lede photo. Viewing the image of a dashboard without gauges, buttons, or dials prompts me to feel an involuntary nostalgic flashback to the days when cars were not mobile computer terminals.

  • Tassos While Acura was the first Japanese attempt to sell 'luxury' (or "premium") vehicles in the US market, and despite its original good success in the near-luxury segment with the Legend and the far smaller and less expensive Itegra (a glorified Civic), it later lost its momentum and offered a series of underwhelming vehicles. It sure is not a LUXURY maker, and as long as it offers FWD or AWD and NOT RWD vehicles, it will never be taken seriously as a serious sports cars maker. Infiniti is much worse, and if both of them go under, few will notice. Lexus was more successful, offering pimped up TOyotas for 10,000s more, but there is NO vehicle in their lineup, esp now that they scewed up the only serious entry (the LS), that I would care to consider. AND I say all this as a very satisfied owner of 5-speed Honda coupes and hatchbacks (a 1991 Civic hatch and a 1990 Accord Coupe).
  • Mike Beranek Yet another reason to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles charged with energy from wind & solar with modern, non-Monty Burns nuclear as a backup.
  • Tassos The cap the timid Western Europeans agreed to, a HIGH $60, which still lets Putin make a TON of billions of $, was way too HIGH. Ukraine correctly complained about this, it had asked for a $20 cap, I believe.
  • FreedMike "...I wouldn’t recommend holding your breath until fuel prices drop."Regular is $2.87 at my local gas station today. Considering that it was over four bucks this summer, I'd call that a drop. And it happened with the war still going on, the GOP not taking over Congress, Dark Brandon in the White House, and the Theoretical Keystone Pipeline still being canned. Imagine that. And I wonder if poor Slavuta has broken out the "will rap for food" sign yet.
  • THX1136 I would imagine the caps will have minimal impact. Putin is going to do what he wants to do regardless of how the citizens of his country fare.