Tesla recalls Autopilot software in 2 million vehicles


Tesla's reputation for making technologically advanced cars suffered a blow on Tuesday when the company, under pressure from regulators, recalled more than two million vehicles. U.S. officials said the automaker had not done enough to ensure drivers remained attentive when using a system that can steer, accelerate and brake cars automatically.

The recall by Tesla, the world's dominant electric vehicle maker, was the fourth in less than two years and the most significant to date. It covers almost every car the company has made in the United States since 2012, including its most popular, the Model Y sport utility vehicle.

Tesla accounts for about half of electric passenger cars sold in the United States, but its market share has been falling as General Motors, Hyundai, Ford Motor and other automakers have begun selling electric models. Furthermore, recent public statements by Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, have been widely interpreted as anti-Semitic and offended some customers. The recall represents another dent in the company's image.

“There's no doubt” that the company's brand “has taken a hit this year,” Future Fund managing partner Gary Black, who is generally positive about Tesla, said on social media site X, which is owned by Musk. .

The recall follows an investigation into Tesla's driver assistance system, Autopilot, which the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched in August 2021 after a series of accidents, some fatal, involving this technology. Autopilot is designed to control vehicles on its own on the roads. Tesla owner's manuals tell drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and take charge if something goes wrong.

The recall reflects regulators' concerns that Tesla did not do enough to prevent drivers from misusing the system, including turning it on while traveling on local roads and becoming distracted because they assumed their car could drive itself.

What Tesla calls Autopilot is a collection of functions that allow the car's technology to take control of the vehicle to varying degrees. The feature highlighted in the recall, Autosteer, can keep a car in a lane without driver intervention.

There may be an “increased risk of accident”, security administration saidwhen Autosteer is activated and drivers do not “maintain responsibility for the operation of the vehicle.”

To address that issue, Tesla said it would update its cars wirelessly to add new, more prominent visual alerts and controls when Autosteer is activated to remind drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention to the road. Musk did not respond to a request for comment.

Tesla said it disagreed with the agency's assessment of the system. The company has maintained that Autopilot makes its cars safer.

Manufacturers are responsible for preventing foreseeable misuse of their technology, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, who oversees the auto safety agency, said Wednesday during a meeting with New York Times reporters and editors.

“They'll say it's safer with these systems,” Buttigieg said, referring to Tesla. “That could be true. But you know, a car with an airbag is safer than a car without an airbag. “If the airbag explodes, we will still remove it.”

On Monday, Tesla said of Platform Washington Post about the defects of technology.

Some experts question whether Autopilot makes driving safer. Philip Koopman, an associate professor at Carnegie Mellon University who studies autonomous driving software, said the safety improvements come almost entirely from one feature, automatic emergency braking, that is common in all new vehicles.

“Autopilot is not a safety feature, it's a convenience feature,” Mr. Koopman said.

The regulator said its investigation would continue.

The impeachment was “notoriously overdue,” two Democratic senators, Edward Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, said in a statement. “We urge NHTSA to continue its investigations to push for necessary recalls, and Tesla to stop misleading drivers and putting the public in great danger.”

The investigation is the most prominent example of a broader tug-of-war between government regulators and companies that develop technologies that allow vehicles to drive themselves in certain situations.

In October, California regulators ordered cruise, a GM subsidiary, to stop its driverless taxi service in San Francisco after a series of traffic mishaps, including one in which a Cruise car dragged a pedestrian 20 feet after an accident. The company has since suspended its driverless vehicle operations nationwide.

Buttigieg said some companies have launched self-driving technology before it was proven safe for widespread use. These companies, he said, were motivated in part by the large number of accidents and deaths on the roads. More than 30,000 people died in traffic accidents in the first nine months of this year4.5 percent less than the previous year, but around 6,000 more than in the same period in 2013.

“I think the culture in a lot of these companies revolves around getting to that promised land, where the faster we build this technology and the sooner we deploy it, the better off it is for everyone because human drivers have a killer track record. ” he said.

The auto safety agency said that in August 2021 it began investigating 11 incidents involving Tesla vehicles operating with Autosteer activated. A series of meetings between the agency and Tesla followed, and the company decided this month to voluntarily administer a recall.

Over the course of its investigation, the safety agency said, it reviewed 956 crashes in which Autopilot was involved. It then focused on 322 accidents, including head-on collisions and situations where Autopilot may have been activated accidentally.

Tesla began issuing over-the-air software updates for certain vehicles this week, safety officials said. The remaining vehicles will receive updates later. For years, Tesla has updated its cars' software using cellular networks, usually at night when the cars are parked.

Depending on a car's hardware, some upgraded vehicles will feature more prominent visual alerts as well as additional controls when using Autosteer. The feature will also be discontinued if drivers repeatedly fail to use it responsibly.

Letters notifying them of the update are expected to be sent to Tesla owners in February.

This week's Tesla recall is the latest episode intensifying public scrutiny of the automaker. In October, a California jury found that the company's driver assistance software it wasn't fault in an accident that killed the owner of a Tesla and seriously injured two passengers.

Several similar cases are being litigated across the country. One of them involves a 2019 accident in Florida in which a Tesla operating on Autopilot on a rural highway ran a stop sign and crashed into a parked car. killing Naibel Benavides22 years old, and seriously injured his companion.

Todd Poses, an attorney representing Benavides' family, said the recall showed Tesla was aware that Autopilot was being used on roads where it was unsafe and did not restrict where it could be activated.

“This accident should never have happened because it doesn't work on roads like this,” Poses said Wednesday, referring to Autopilot.

The Tesla driver dropped his phone and crouched down to look for it, relying on Autopilot to steer his Tesla Model S. But the car failed to stop at a T-intersection with a flashing red light.

“This technology is not safe, it needs to be off the roads,” said Dillon Angulo, who was with Ms. Benavides and suffered a traumatic brain injury, a broken pelvis and a broken jaw.

Tesla has faced several other recalls. In May, China orders Tesla to recall 1.1 million vehiclesciting a problem with the acceleration and braking systems of certain models made in China and abroad.

A few months before, Tesla recalled more than 362,000 cars equipped with its Full Self Driving driver assistance system, a more advanced technology than Autopilot, after US regulators found it increased the risk of accidents.

The more advanced system allows vehicles to travel above legal speed limits and traverse intersections in “an illegal and unpredictable manner,” safety officials said.

And at the beginning of 2022, Tesla recalled 54,000 cars equipped with its Full Self Driving software to deactivate a function that, under certain conditions, allows vehicles to drive slowly through intersections without making the necessary stops.

Tesla sells full self-driving separately from Autopilot. But both services are supported by the same technologies. In the past, drivers who had not purchased the more advanced system could use Autopilot on roads other than highways.

The company's latest recall explains that drivers will receive an alert when using Autopilot outside of roads where the technology is intended to operate. But it's unclear whether they will still be allowed to use the technology in these situations.

“NHTSA has forced Tesla to focus on the right issues,” said Matthew Wansley, a professor at Cardozo Law School in New York who specializes in emerging automotive technologies. “But it all depends on the details.”

Neal E. Boudette and Eric Lipton contributed reports.

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