NHTSA launches investigation into Tesla Autopilot over 11 crashes since 2018

The U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) announced this morning an official investigation into Tesla and their driver-assist feature Autopilot. The investigation stems from 11 reported crashes between Tesla vehicles and first responder vehicles since January 2018.

Covering approximately 765,000 vehicles across the entire Tesla lineup (Model S/3/X/Y) that have been sold in the U.S. since 2014, the announcement on Monday said the investigation will cover how Tesla uses technology to “monitor, assist, and enforce” drivers while Autopilot is engaged.

“The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is committed to ensuring the highest standards of safety on the nation’s roadways. In keeping with the agency’s core safety mission and to better understand the causes of certain Tesla crashes, NHTSA is opening a preliminary evaluation into Tesla Autopilot systems and the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver’s engagement with driving while Autopilot is in use.”

The 11 crashes cited by the NHTSA all involved first responder vehicles that were stopped on the side of the road. The agency noted in their documentation that most of the crashes took place after dark and all Tesla vehicles were confirmed to have either Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control (TACC) engaged.

In their announcement, the agency also reminded the public that “no commercially available motor vehicles today are capable of driving themselves.”

Date Location
January 2018 Culver City, California
May 2018 Laguna Beach, California
December 2019 Norwalk, Connecticut
December 2019 Cloverdale, Indiana
January 2020 West Bridgewater, Massachusetts
July 2020 Cochise County, Arizona
August 2020 Charlotte, North Carolina
February 2021 Montgomery County, Texas
March 2021 Lansing, Michigan
May 2021 Miami, Florida
July 2021 San Diego, California

Tesla’s Autopilot system is a driver-assist feature that maintains the vehicle’s speed and direction of travel when the feature is engaged. Tesla reminds drivers each time the feature is engaged to pay attention to the road and be ready to take over control of the vehicle at any time. This is also noted in many places on Tesla’s website.

Over the years the data has shown Autopilot to be as much as 10X safer than human drivers. In their most recent Q1 2021 safety report, there was just one accident for every 4.19 million miles driven while Autopilot was engaged.

That compares to data from the NHTSA itself which shows that there is one accident every 484,000 miles for vehicles driven by humans.

You can read the official investigation documentation here.

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