The NHTSA Wants Tesla To Declare A Recall For An Industry-Leading Software Update

By Zach Shahan and Johnna Crider

Associated Press reports that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is upset about a Tesla software update for some of its vehicles. The update allowed them to detect and brake after emergency lights. Yes, you read that right. The Transport Safety Agency is unhappy that Tesla is getting its vehicles to do something that no other vehicle on the road can – well, is unhappy that Tesla did not report this update as a “recall”.

NHTSA is currently investigating several crashes involving Tesla vehicles and emergency vehicles, and it believes Tesla is breaking a rule to prevent such accidents in the future by implementing a software update without a recall notice.

The thing is: drivers are presumed to be responsible for their driving, not car manufacturers. Although the manufacturer is working on a technology that would one day make human driving obsolete, all Tesla semi-autonomous driving characteristics today require a human to diligently monitor driving and intervene if necessary. We are not in robotaxi country yet, so people still need to be aware and careful.

A “recall” is presumed to be filed when a automaker discovers something unsafe about its cars that needs to be corrected. As mentioned in the tweet above, no other car manufacturer the Tesla feature has just added the car’s ability to identify an emergency vehicle siren and try to proceed appropriately in response, especially useful if the driver uses semi-autonomous driving functions. But was the fact that Tesla vehicles did not do this before a problem / error with the cars that needed to be fixed? If that were the case, would not every other vehicle on the road have the same “problem / error” – which means that all other car manufacturers would have to issue a recall and correct this problem? Clearly this is not happening, so why should Tesla be required to issue a recall? And just to be clear — other automakers have cruise control, adaptive cruise control, and lane features that are in the same range of “level 2” semi-autonomous driving technology as Tesla’s Autopilot.

NHTSA wrote a six-page letter to Tesla’s director of field quality, Eddie Gates, and scolded Tesla for the software update. The letter mentions the Safety Act, which states that car manufacturers (Tesla included) are required to initiate a recall by telling the NHTSA when they find that their vehicles have defects.

“Any manufacturer issuing an air update to remedy a defect that poses an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety is required in a timely manner to file an accompanying revocation notice with NHTSA pursuant to 49 USC § 30118 and 49 CFR Part 573.”

This seems like a silly pettiness as it’s just a new safety feature Tesla added to make its vehicles even safer. it is adds to what is expected of a car, not getting Tesla up to basic standards.

NHTSA wants Tesla to provide it with a large amount of data to show how Tesla decided to implement the new emergency information update. Included in the data are:

  • Chronology of events.
  • Internal investigations.
  • Studies up to the release.
  • A statement on whether Tesla plans to file a safety call with NHTSA.

NHTSA also wants more information about Tesla’s expansion of its Full Self-Driving (FSD) Beta program and specifically a detailed description of all the selection criteria used in the process. NHTSA will also know how many Tesla owners pressed the button to request the FSD Beta.

You can read the whole letter here.

Interestingly, this week Tesla shared a video on how it is capable of constructing the safest vehicles on the road. In that video, Tesla demonstrated a technology that would make even the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) crash test system a little outdated.

Tesla has long focused heavily on safety. Tesla CEO Elon Musk has stressed that safety is the company’s top priority in vehicle design and development, and he reaffirmed this a few days ago in a response to a CleanTechnica Article.

So it is ironic that another industry-leading security feature is designated as allegedly needing a recall notice. You can not find it here.

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