NHTSA Identifies 12th Autopilot Related Crash Involving Emergency Vehicles

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
nhtsa identifies 12th autopilot related crash involving emergency vehicles

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has identified another traffic incident pertaining to Tesla’s driver assistance features and emergency vehicles, making the current tally twelve. These wrecks have been a matter of focus for the agency ever since it opened a probe to determine whether or not Autopilot can handle hiccups in the road caused by scenes where flares, cones, disabled automobiles, and first responders coalesce.

Though concerns remain that Tesla is being singled out unjustly when there’s little evidence to suggest that other manufacturers are providing more capable systems. Tesla’s issues appear to be heavily influenced by irresponsible marketing that makes it seem as though its vehicles are self-driving when no manufacturer can make that claim. U.S. regulators now want to place more restrictions on vehicles boasting autonomous features and, thus far, Tesla has been behind on those trends. But it’s hard to support claims that they make vehicles safer when none seem as effective as they should be.

Ironically, the safety concerns coming from the NHTSA actually make Tesla’s Autopilot more versatile than the competition. It can be used in more places and has fewer restrictions. General Motors’ SuperCruise is restricted to a limited number of roadways and requires an interior camera that perpetually monitors the driver. While it does add an apparent layer of protection, those restrictions feel invasive and force the operator to maintain the same level of focus they might when driving a car normally — completely defeating the purpose of “self-driving” systems.

The latest Tesla crash regulators are interested in took place in Orlando, FL, on Saturday. Like previous incidents meeting the necessary NHTSA criteria, the accident involved a Tesla vehicle using driver-assistance features “near” a first-responder scene striking another vehicle. Thus far, the investigation has tabulated seventeen injuries and one death.

While Tesla has updated its own safety protocols to be more in line with what its rivals are doing and regulators want (including interior cameras), it has simultaneously dumbed down the sensing equipment Autopilot uses by ditching radar. But the core issue remains that advanced driver assistance systems really aren’t up to snuff. Anyone who has owned a vehicle with modern hardware knows that driving aids can easily be sent into a tizzy when conditions are bad or the necessary equipment becomes damaged, dirty, or old. Regulators also aren’t worried about new Tesla models that Elon Musk thinks won’t need radar to be effective. They’re targeting cars from the 2014 to 2021 model years — all of them.

That makes it seem as though they’re concerned with driver attentiveness and how the company handles disengagement. Unfortunately, that would mean a lot more if modern systems worked as advertised. But your author has experienced too many incidents where lane-keeping tried to take things suddenly off-road and incessant chimes coming from some feature that was freaking out because traffic was heavy, the car was dirty, or something was damaged.

It’s admirable that the NHTSA wants to promote safety but they seem way off target. There’s little doubt that Autopilot has some serious issues and Tesla has indeed been irresponsible with its marketing. But there’s a bigger issue being ignored. While regulators fuss over whether or not older Tesla vehicles are safe when approaching an accident using Autopilot, they’ve allowed giant touch screens to be installed in every single modern automobile and a whole host of lackluster driver assistance features that too frequently have trouble performing their core functions. Customers mistaking Autopilot as truly self-driving is indeed a problem, but it probably hasn’t killed as many people as the distracted driving caused by smartphones and increasingly complicated multimedia interfaces.

[Image: Virrage Images/Shutterstock]

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  • DenverMike DenverMike on Sep 02, 2021

    "...and force the driver to maintain the same level of focus_completely defeating the purpose..." @Matt, I forget, what's the purpose? So you can focus on you twitter feed? What's more important than driving while you're driving? Keep the list short.

    • See 1 previous
    • DenverMike DenverMike on Sep 03, 2021

      @Art Vandelay The youth or anyone that hates driving. I don't want to call anyone out, but even as a passenger I have to be aware of absolutely everything. Is it the same ones that voted out the cloverleaf intersections and roundabouts? Screw them, I look forward to those remaining ones. I'm sure merging is white knuckle for them too. Of course they know even with Autopilot's navigating "issues", it's still far safer than anything they can do. Yikes.

  • Ram1901 Ram1901 on Sep 03, 2021

    The TERM Autopilot is nothing new and does not mean some magical system that allows the driver to sit back and fall asleep and leave the driving to the car. In 1958, Chrysler used that name to describe their 'new' cruise control system. See: https://www.curbsideclassic.com/blog/history/automotive-history-capsule-chryslers-1958-auto-pilot-56-years-before-teslas-autopilot/ It appears the government is doing as so many new websites do to get clicks....i.e. to get attention: they're using the name Tesla in their list of things being investigated. Today's auto pilot or super cruise or pro pilot or whatever each car company wants to call it is nothing more than a cruise control system that maintains traffic speeds while staying in designated lanes. If an emergency vehicle decides to stick it's butt out into the traffic lane it leaves itself open to being struck by oncoming traffic BECAUSE more and more drivers are NOT paying attention but rather texting, talking on the phone, watching videos on their phone and so on. The cause of any accident that may have cruise control turned on is: are you ready for this?? INATTENTIVE DRIVERS!! period!! I saw one post that said why does Tesla's autopilot seek out emergency vehicles and strike them. SERIOUSLY?? It is the emergency vehicle that sticks out into the traffic lane, not Tesla pulling over onto the shoulder like a programmed missiles seeking to destroy emergency vehicles. In the dark, during inclement weather conditions, around construction sites, flashing lights and vehicles partly in the traffic lanes can increase the risk of more accidents. Many State Police agencies now train drivers to pull in on an angle so that if someone hits the patrol car it acts as a barrier to the trooper and pushes the car onto the shoulder, not into the officer. Police know it is risky to do these emergency stops. Finally, level 2 systems, which is what all of these lane keep assist systems are, REQUIRES that the driver MUST be ready to take control at all times AND that the driver is responsible for any accidents while using these systems. SOOOOOOO, with all that we know, why is the government wasting time and money on this investigation??

    • DenverMike DenverMike on Sep 03, 2021

      Thank you Capt'n Obviously. It goes a little beyond "INATTENTIVE DRIVERS!!" How about totally CHECKED OUT, as in left the building, in another STATE!! That's what the government is investigating. And should a full blown recall happen on older Autopilot Teslas. If it was Toyota, Ford, etc, there would be no question. Tesla fanatics will riot, storm the Capital.

  • 28-Cars-Later I'll offer this, offer a registration for limited use and exempt it from all inspection. The Commonwealth of GFY for the most part is Dante's Inferno for the auto enthusiast however they oddly will allow an antique registration with limited use and complete exemption from their administrative stupidity but it must be 25 years old (which ironically are the cars which probably should be inspected). Given the dystopia being built around us, it should be fairly simply to set a mileage limitation and enforce a mileage check then bin the rest of it if one agrees to the terms of the registration. For the most part odometer data started being stored in the ECU after OBDII, so it should be plug and play to do such a thing - this is literally what they are doing now for their emissions chicanery.
  • Probert For around $15 you can have a professional check important safety areas - seems like a bargain. It pointed to a rear brake problem on my motorcycle. It has probably saved a lot of lives. But, like going to a dentist, no-one could say it is something they look forward to. (Well maybe a few - it takes all kinds...)
  • VoGhost ICE is so dangerous.
  • Akear Back as early as 2014 Ford was building some pretty decent vehicles. The Ford Fusion was getting good reviews and selling around 300,000 annually. The Mark MKZ was also the top selling US luxury car at the time. My Ford Fusion is approaching the 200,000 mile mark, while current Fords blow gaskets at 40,000 miles.
  • Kjhkjlhkjhkljh kljhjkhjklhkjh yes ; required with non-federal legal penalties for deliberate violation https://imageio.forbes.com/blogs-images/trevornace/files/2015/12/smog-surrounds-beijing-1200x899.jpg?format=jpg&width=1200