NHTSA Investigates Tesla Over Series of Autopilot Crashes

According to documents recently released by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), the Department of the Transportation oversight body is investigating the Silicon Valley-based electric vehicle company in connection with a series of incidents. In particular, the NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) has identified 11 crashes in which various Tesla models have encountered first responder scenes and subsequently struck one or more vehicles involved with those scenes since January 2018.

According to the ODI, the crashes mostly took place after dark when the vehicles encountered control measures such as first responder vehicle lights, flares, illuminated arrow boards, and road cones. The Teslas involved were confirmed to be engaged in either “Autopilot” or “Traffic Aware Cruise Control” prior to the crashes, the ODI noted.

The Tesla Autopilot feature is an “Advanced Driver Assistance System (ADAS) in which the vehicle maintains its speed and lane centering when engaged within its Operational Design Domain (ODD),” the ODI explained. When ADAS is active, the driver is still responsible for identifying obstacles in the roadway and oppositional maneuvers by nearby vehicles.

The ODI stated that the investigation will consider the technologies and methods used to assess, assist, and enforce driver engagement during Autopilot operation. The agency will also probe the vehicles’ object and event detection and response mechanisms. As for the 11 crashes, one of which was fatal, the investigation will include examination of the specific contributing circumstances.

According to a TechCrunch article by Alia Alamalhodaei published on Monday, Tesla’s Autopilot feature has previously been scrutinized by the NHTSA. In 2017, the agency reportedly looked into a fatal crash that occurred the year prior, despite a no-fault finding on part of the manufacturer. Additionally, Alamalhodaei reported, the NHTSA investigated 25 more crashes involving the ADAS since then. Earlier this summer the agency mandated that automakers report crashes involving vehicles equipped with ADAS or certain other automated driving systems.