By David Shepardson
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) will resolve its two-year investigation into Tesla Autopilot and could make a public announcement soon, the agency’s acting head told Reuters.
“We’ll get to a resolution (of the Tesla probe),” Acting NHTSA Administrator Ann Carlson told Reuters in an interview at the agency’s headquarters.
Speaking broadly of advanced driver assistance systems, she said: “It’s really important that drivers pay attention. It’s also really important that driver monitoring systems take into account that humans over-trust technology.”
She declined to discuss how the Tesla investigation might be resolved, but added “hopefully you’ll hear something relatively soon.” Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The agency is investigating the performance of Autopilot after identifying more than a dozen crashes in which Tesla vehicles hit stationary emergency vehicles. It is also investigating whether Tesla vehicles adequately ensure drivers are paying attention when using the driver assistance system.
In June 2022, NHTSA upgraded the probe into 830,000 Tesla vehicles it first opened in August 2021 to an engineering analysis – a required step before it could potentially demand a recall. Last month, NHTSA sought updated responses and current data from Tesla in the probe.
Autopilot is intended to enable cars to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within their lane, while enhanced Autopilot can assist in changing lanes on highways.
Separately, since 2016, NHTSA has opened more than three dozen Tesla special crash investigations in cases where driver systems such as Autopilot were suspected of being used, with 23 crash deaths reported to date.
Carlson noted the Autopilot investigation “is complicated” given the large number of crashes under investigation. “They are big numbers and we are working on that,” Carlson said.
NHTSA has said previously that evidence raised questions about the effectiveness of Tesla’s alert strategy, which seeks to compel driver attention.
The agency said in 2022 nine of 11 vehicles in prior crashes exhibited no driver engagement, or visual or chime alerts, until the last minute preceding a collision, while four showed no visual or chime alerts at all during the final Autopilot use cycle.
NHTSA closed an earlier investigation into Autopilot in 2017 without taking any action. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has criticized Tesla’s lack of system safeguards for Autopilot and NHTSA’s failure to ensure the safety of Autopilot.
NTSB chair Jennifer Homendy has said NHTSA should require automakers to “incorporate system safeguards that limit the use of automated vehicle control systems to those conditions for which they were designed.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Mark Porter and Daniel Wallis)