Dec 13, 2023 - Economy

Tesla recalls 2M vehicles over software defect that affects Autopilot monitoring

Tesla vehicles outside of a store in Smithtown, New York, in July 2023.

Tesla vehicles outside of a store in Smithtown, New York, in July 2023. Photo: John Paraskevas/Newsday RM via Getty Images

Tesla issued a recall covering almost all of the cars it has sold in the U.S. over a software defect in a system that's meant to monitor whether drivers are paying attention while using the vehicle's Autopilot feature.

Why it matters: The recall of roughly 2 million vehicles is the latest sign that U.S. safety regulators are getting tougher on Tesla after multiple investigations were opened in recent years into collisions involving the Autopilot technology.

  • In 2021, Teslas accounted for roughly 70% of the crashes involving advanced driver assistance systems, a National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHSTA) analysis found.

Details: The recall was disclosed in a letter to the company from NHSTA.

  • The letter said Tesla will soon issue a free software update to limit the drivers' ability to use the company's Autosteer feature if they repeatedly fail to demonstrate they are in control of the car while using the feature.
  • "In certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, and the driver does not maintain responsibility for vehicle operation and is unprepared to intervene as necessary or fails to recognize when Autosteer is canceled or not engaged, there may be an increased risk of a crash," the NHSTA said.
  • The software recall affects all models Y, S, 3 and X produced between October 2012 and December 2023.

The big picture: The recall comes days after the Washington Post published an investigation into Tesla crashes.

  • The company's Autopilot feature was enabled when it shouldn't have been in at least serious eight accidents, some of which included fatalities, the Post found.
  • Tesla vehicles have also been under investigation for how the Autopilot function works around crash scenes and a feature that lets drivers play video games on the front-center touch screen while the car is in motion.

Our thought bubble, via Axios' Joann Muller: The problem with Tesla's Autopilot software is that it's easy for people to misuse. NHTSA is basically telling the company to put better guardrails on when and where Autopilot is safe to use, and also to enforce those rules better.

  • While Tesla doesn't agree with the federal agency and says driving is safer when Autopilot is engaged, imagine how much safer it will be if the feature can't be used improperly.
  • This is a long overdue action by NHTSA, and it will be interesting to see if regulators crack down further on Tesla's "Full Self Driving" technology.

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