Smart Summon a Smart Idea? The NHTSA Wants to Know

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems

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]

Steph Willems
Steph Willems

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  • 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.

  • Slavuta I just though, with this rate we could make Cinco De Mayo a national holiday as well. Since we have tens of millions of American Mexicans, and probably more than African Americans
  • Wjtinfwb Well, it LOOKS pretty great for 36 years old and 356k miles! I've seen plenty of 2 decade newer trucks that looked like a shrapnel bomb went off inside and and exterior that looked worse. This owner got everything out of that truck it had. Time to let it retire to the farm.
  • Wjtinfwb Stellantis. They've gone from Hero to Zero in 24 months with some really stupid decisions and allowing politicians to influence their business. They also hung onto old products way too long and relied on RAM and Jeep to pull them through. RAM plays in the most competitive market of all, full-size trucks and competition is brutal with Ford and GM keeping their foot to the floor on development and improvement. Chrysler now has one model, a 5 year old van. Dodge made a living off old cars with stupendous power, that's gone with the mothballing of the Hemi. The Hornet is an overpriced joke. Now they have new Durango Pursuit's self-destruction because of a plastic oil cooler that self destructs and dumps oil into the coolant lunching the engine. Grand Cherokee, a staple of Jeep has not been well received and has limited power options due to canning the Hemi. Now they've got to build interest around the Hurricane turbo in-line 6 in trucks, Charger's and Jeeps. If that engine turns out to be problematic its likely lights out in Sterling Heights.
  • Ajla Tim, any chance when you "pop on" you can have someone look into why comments under your authored posts don't allow any formatting, links, or editing?
  • Rick Old I.T. security weenie here.Not only can I live without it, I recently boughta 2024 Civic sport touring because the 2025 did awaywith a couple of things I wanted.First no manual transmission.Second the Garmin map went away and Google apps willcome installed. Google apps are a big security hole.Android auto and Apple Play just end up sending even more info off to Apple or eventually Google. I will spend extra for Sirius XM to avoid any google routed audio. or Apple Itunes. I never pair my phone to any car I own or rent and I leave locationservices disabled.