(Reuters) – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said on Thursday that it is upgrading its probe to 830,000 Tesla vehicles with its advanced driver assistance system Autopilot, a necessary step before revocation can be sought.
In August, the Swedish Automobile Safety Agency began a preliminary evaluation to assess the system’s performance in 765,000 vehicles after a series of accidents in which Tesla vehicles hit stopped emergency vehicles. NHTSA is upgrading its probe to a technical analysis, which it must do before requiring a recall if deemed necessary.
The car safety regulator examines whether Tesla vehicles adequately ensure that drivers are alert. In 2020, the National Transportation Safety Board criticized Tesla̵7;s “ineffective monitoring of driver engagement” after a fatal autopilot crash in 2018, saying NHTSA had provided “little oversight”.
The NHTSA said the upgrade is “expanding the existing crash analysis, evaluating additional amounts of data, performing vehicle evaluations and exploring the extent to which Autopilot and associated Tesla systems can exacerbate human factors or behavioral safety risks by undermining the effectiveness of driver monitoring.”
Tesla, which has closed down its press offices, did not respond to a request for comment.
NHTSA said it has reports of 16 crashes, including seven injuries and one death, with Tesla vehicles in autopilot that had hit stationary first-responders and road maintenance vehicles.
NHTSA said that its analysis indicated that warnings for forward collisions were activated in most incidents just before the collision and that subsequent automatic emergency braking intervened in about half of the crashes.
“On average in these crashes, the autopilot interrupted vehicle checks less than a second before the first collision,” the agency added.
NHTSA noted that “where incident video was available, the approach to the first rescue site would have been visible to the driver an average of 8 seconds before the collision.”
The agency also reviewed 106 reported autopilot accidents and said of about half, “there were indications that the driver was not responsive enough to the needs of the dynamic driving task.”
“A driver’s use or misuse of vehicle components, or the inadvertent operation of a vehicle, does not necessarily preclude a system failure,” the agency said.
NHTSA also found in about a quarter of the 106 crashes, the primary crash factor seemed to relate to the operation of the system where Tesla says restrictions may exist in places such as non-restricted highways, or in visibility environments involving factors such as rain, snow or is.