The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has launched a formal investigation into Tesla‘s Autopilot system following a series of fatal crashes that have left at least 17 people injured and 1 dead.
Following the announcement by the federal vehicle safety regulators, Tesla shares plummeted and closed down 4.32% on Monday.
Tesla’s Autopilot system is a hands-on driver assistance system intended to be used only with a fully attentive driver. It does not turn a Tesla into a self-driving car nor does it make a car autonomous. It requires active driver supervision, and when engaged, allows drivers to maintain speed and lane centering. Drivers are still responsible for identifying roadway obstacles and manoeuvres from nearby vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) posted a report on Monday, in which it said it had identified 11 crashes, since January 2018, where Tesla vehicles have “encountered first responder scenes and subsequently struck one or more vehicles.” The report covers an estimated 765,000 Tesla vehicles, which cut across models, including Models Y, X, and S.
According to the agency, the first of the crashes occurred on the 22nd of January 2018 in Culver City, California, which involved a fire engine that was hit by a Tesla using autopilot. Following that incident, crashes were reported in Laguna Beach, California; Norwalk, Connecticut; Cloverdale, Indiana; West Bridgewater, Massachusetts; Cochise County, Arizona; Charlotte, North Carolina, Montgomery County, Texas; Lansing, Michigan; and Miami, Florida.
The formal investigation comes just months after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and National Transportation Safety Board said they were looking into the company following a crash in Texas. In recent months there have also been several probes into Tesla’s Autopilot, including an investigation in March after a Model Y using the system reportedly struck a stationary police car.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that Tesla’s partially automated driving system failed to spot emergency vehicles including ambulances and fire engines. It reported that “most incidents took place after dark and the crash scenes encountered included scene control measures such as first responder vehicle lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board, and road cones. The involved subject vehicles were all confirmed to have been engaged in either Autopilot or Traffic-Aware Cruise Control during the approach to the crashes.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said that it will look into the technologies and methods used by Tesla to supervise, assist and enforce the driver’s engagement with the Autopilot system while driving.
The investigation could result in invalidation of Tesla’s Autopilot system, and an ultimate ban, who knows?