By on January 17, 2020

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration agreed to review a petition requesting the agency formally investigate 500,000 vehicles manufactured by Tesla Motors. The petition cites 127 consumer complaints to NHTSA involving models produced since 2012 and asks the NHTSA look into 500,000 units it believes may need to be recalled.

Many of the complaints involve incidents of unintended acceleration when attempting to park vehicles; others cite events where a vehicle’s advanced driving systems (namely Autopilot) led to erratic behavior or crashes in traffic. On Friday, the agency said it would look into the issue. 

The agency already has several ongoing investigations relating to Tesla. Another petition, this time from September, encouraged the NHTSA to examine 2,000 vehicles the company attempted to fix via an over-the-air software push. The petition claims these cars, which received the update in May of 2019, never should have been able to be sold due to a presumed battery fire risk.

According to Reuters, Edward Chen, one of the lawyers that filed the petition, suggested the number of affected vehicles could be much higher than 2,000.

We also recently received confirmation that the NHTSA was examining the December 29th crash of a Tesla Model 3. That incident resulted in the death of one passenger after the vehicle collided with a parked fire truck in Indiana. It’s the 14th case of the agency’s special crash investigation program needing to take another look at Autopilot. Still, it may not be fair to call the system inherently unsafe.

Many of the issues surrounding Tesla’s advanced driving aids probably stem from customers mistakenly thinking their cars are equipped for self-driving. While some of the blame lies with the manufacturer’s marketing efforts, Tesla has tried to be clearer in recent years about Autopilot’s very real limitations. Unfortunately, we continue to see people abusing these systems by giving them unwarranted levels of trust.

The NHTSA will likely conduct a technical review of the latest allegations, deciding afterward whether or not to open a formal investigation. “As is the agency’s standard practice in such matters, NHTSA will carefully review the petition and relevant data,” the agency said in a statement.

[Image: Welcomia/Shutterstock]

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21 Comments on “NHTSA Mulls Petition Seeking Tesla Recall Investigation...”

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    There are several issues conflated here – unintended acceleration, Autopilot, and battery safety.

    1. Unintended acceleration in these cars has always been due to pedal confusion. Other than being placed too close together, I’m not sure what Tesla can do about this.

    2. Autopilot. A recall could only demand a stand-down of the system. But to what end? How does one make a system that requires driver vigilance exceed its performance specification? Sure, Cadillac’s system watches the driver’s face, but that’s going above and beyond the requirement. The problem always points to the mere existence of SAE Level 2 autonomy, and the misleading name “Autopilot”. Perhaps it should be rebranded.

    3. Battery safety – I’m not sure what a “a presumed battery fire risk” is. Were these 2000 vehicles allegedly build with faulty packs?

    • 0 avatar

      I think a rebrand would do far more to ameliorate the issue than a recall. The technology does what it does OK. The problem is that company marketing makes people think it can do a lot more than it actually can.

      • 0 avatar

        Yes. And that marketing is not helped at all by Tesla offering a “Full Self Driving Capability” computer upgrade for $5000, despite the disclaimer that it does not actually offer full self driving capability at this time.

    • 0 avatar

      1. Black box data should be able to resolve whether it was unintended acceleration or unintended accelerator pedal application.

      2. None of these systems is good enough. However, they work well enough to lull drivers into a false sense of security. As far as expecting drivers to pay rapt attention, on the off chance that the system will fail, that’s not how people work. Drivers need a mentally challenging workload to hold their attention. Nobody goes to sleep during track days.

      3. Battery fires in properly maintained cars are Tesla’s problem. If the software update solved the problem (assuming there was one in the first place), the issue is moot other than to compensate owners of burnt cars.

    • 0 avatar
      White Shadow

      Unintended acceleration has always been due to pedal confusion in every car, including Toyota and even Audi before them.

    • 0 avatar

      “Other than being placed too close together, I’m not sure what Tesla can do about this.”

      Make just one pedal – you depress it – car accelerates, slowly release it – it brakes. No MT and only one pedal – it sounds like the future is here at last!

    • 0 avatar

      1. Jason Hughes (wk057), an infamous Tesla hacker, has verified logs multiple times for insurance companies (17 times as of March 2019) and SUA has always been proven to be driver pedal misapplication. He even states that other than driver error, a technology issue can not cause SUA.
      2. Whether it is called “Autopilot” or “Cruise Control Plus”, the programmed capabilities wouldn’t have changed and it would still be “abused” by people just the same. No point in rebranding.
      3. Nobody seems to have a problem with gasoline tanks that have a much higher chance of catching fire than batteries.

      In the end, this SUA petition to NHTSA was likely from someone who wants Tesla stock to go down for monetary gain.

      • 0 avatar

        @SkiD666: “and it would still be “abused” by people just the same. No point in rebranding.”

        Exactly. Plenty of people abusing conventional autos. It’s in the news every day. What’s next? Completely banning cell phones in cars? Banning cars with more than 80hp? People fall asleep in non-teslas too, but with far worse results.

      • 0 avatar

        @SkiD666: “In the end, this SUA petition to NHTSA was likely from someone who wants Tesla stock to go down for monetary gain.”

        Ski, you were right. Here’s the real truth about a car:

    • 0 avatar

      “…After reviewing Toyota’s software engineering process and the source code for the 2005 Toyota Camry, both concluded that the system was defective and dangerous, riddled with bugs and gaps in its failsafes that led to the root cause of the crash….” safetyresearch

  • avatar
    Tele Vision

    Darwinism at speed, fanbois.

  • avatar

    I think there’s a real possibility that if automated driving ever goes mainstream, lawsuits will cause it to be abandoned. It’s so much more fun to file class actions against big auto makers than to sue an individual driver’s insurance company.

  • avatar

    It would be nice to see Tesla and that fraud Musk lose big time over this. But it won’t happen.

    All Teslas should be recalled due to glaring safety issues. Autopilot being first and foremost but then the cheap batteries that just start on fire whenever they feel like it.

    The sudden acceleration is interesting though. My guess is they are using the same type of garbage software that is being used for autopilot. Beta level software that isn’t ready to begin testing let alone see production and use by the end user.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      “…the cheap batteries that just start on fire whenever they feel like it”

      Where did you hear that? There have been several crash-induced fires, a charger-induced fire, and maybe a few which spontaneously ignited. For having nearly 1 million Teslas on the road, and with 150 ICE cars catching fire every day, that’s not a bad record.

      • 0 avatar

        Gosh if only there was a way to put words into a search box and with the click of a mouse you could search the internet for close matches. They really need to invent something like that.

        • 0 avatar

          The affected vehicles — which do NOT include Tesla’s high volume model, the 3 — got a silent fix via software update. However the update can nerf charging speed, performance and range for some users, and some who complain about being nerfed are getting new battery packs. Interestingly, the new pack operates at 350 volts as opposed to…what was it, 455 for the original?

  • avatar

    Oh for the love of….

    Take the first obvious step and clamp a “cease and desist” order on Tesla to STOP calling their drive assist “autopilot”. Obviously, people are TOO DUMB to realize that it’s no such thing and persist in pretending Musk’s cars can actually drive themselves in real world situations, putting themselves and everyone around them at risk of serious injury or death.

    Maybe you can’t fix a system that’s not ready for prime time but you can at least attempt to fix STUPID….

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