Tesla has agreed to recall nearly 363,000 vehicles equipped with the company’s Full Self-Driving beta software after feeling some pressure from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.
Federal safety regulators reached out to the Texas-based EV maker in late January as part of an ongoing investigation into issues with its Autopilot and FSD programs. At that time, NHTSA officials related there were “potential concerns” with how Tesla vehicles operating in Full Self-Driving mode handled “four specific roadways environments.”
Those environments included:
- Traveling or turning through certain intersections during a stale yellow traffic light;
- the perceived duration of the vehicle’s static position at certain intersections with a stop sign, particularly when the intersection is clear of any other road users;
- adjusting vehicle speed while traveling through certain variable speed zones, based on detected speed limit signage and/or the vehicle’s speed offset setting that is adjusted by the driver; and
- negotiating a lane change out of certain turn-only lanes to continue traveling straight.
All of these are considered violations or potentially violations of local traffic laws. According to Tesla, there have been no reports of any crashes, injuries or deaths in any of those scenarios related to the problem.
Tesla officials disagreed with the analysis presented by NHTSA officials but agreed to conduct an over-the-air update to change the vehicle’s software to eliminate these problems. Owners should be informed by April 15 about the update and when it will occur.
The impacted vehicles include the 2017-23 Model 3; 2016-2023 Model S; 2016-2023 Model X; and 2020-23 Model Y, according to NHTSA.
The recall comes as the company is in the midst of a wider investigation by NHTSA and under persistently heavy criticism from a variety of sources, most recently a Super Bowl commercial from the Dawn Project, an organization funded by billionaire Dan O’Dowd, which is “dedicated to making computers truly safe for humanity.”
O’Dowd seemingly has Tesla and its Autopilot and Full Self-Driving technologies in the crosshairs, paying more than $500,000 of his own money to run an anti-FSD commercial during the recent Super Bowl between the Kansas City Chiefs and Philadelphia Eagles.
“I am trying to remove the worst, most incompetently designed, developed, and tested automotive product on the market,” he said in a tweet Feb. 12. In response to another user asking him what he’s doing to solve the problem.
In other tweets and several media campaigns, O’Dowd has called for the U.S. government regulators to mandate the deactivation of Tesla’s FSD until all supposed defects are fixed. As part of those campaigns, O’Dowd has shown videos of Tesla’s reportedly running over inflatable child-size dummies while using FSD.
Tesla sent a cease-and-desist letter to O’Dowd asking him to take down the videos. He declined saying he can “afford not to be intimidated by these threats.”
More than one
Tesla has been hit with a class action lawsuit for deceptive advertising around the FSD system, which is also under investigation by National Highway Traffic Safety Administration or NHTSA, which has yet to order a complete recall.
Famous automotive safety advocate Ralph Nader also has attacked Tesla for putting the system on the road.
While Tesla has been linked to a disproportionate share of accidents and other incidents involving semi- and fully autonomous vehicles, an assortment of other products and brands have raised concerns among safety advocates and regulators.
In December, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began a formal investigation involving robocabs operated by General Motors’ San Francisco-based Cruise LLC. There have been numerous reports the driverless vehicles will slow or completely stop on their own, sometimes for extended periods of time.
U.S. Justice Department launched a criminal probe last last year into the way the automaker promotes and sells Autopilot and FSD. About 830,000 vehicles are included in that probe. It follows a number of lawsuits and regulatory actions related to Autopilot and FSD that focus on the way Tesla, as well as CEO Musk himself, have handled the technologies.
One ongoing investigation, by the California Department of Motor Vehicles has the potential to lead to a statewide ban of Tesla products. Considering that California is the largest single market for the brand’s vehicles in the U.S., that could be a significant setback. Many of the affected vehicles are built at the automaker’s first assembly plant in Fremont, just outside of San Francisco.
Critics contend that Tesla has long overstated the capabilities of its semi-autonomous vehicle systems. While the automaker’s website does state that Autopilot and FSD require a driver to keep their hands on the wheel, Musk has called the earlier system “probably better than a human driver.” In a video released shortly after Autopilot’s launch, Musk was shown waving his arms outside the window of a Model S while driving.
Tesla has, however, claimed with its technology, “the car is driving itself.” And a video on its website says with FSD, “The person in the driver’s seat is only there for legal reasons. He is not doing anything. The car is driving itself.”