“Any manufacturer issuing an over-the-air update that mitigates a defect that poses an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety is required to timely finalize an accompanying recall notice to NHTSA,” said the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration in a recent letter to Tesla’s field quality director, Eddie Gates.
Tesla, according to the agency, failed to file recall documents when the company updated its Autopilot software to expand its ability to identify and avoid parked emergency vehicles. If an over-the-internet update addresses any particular safety issue, the company must promptly issue a vehicle recall notice, NHTSA said.
Tesla must also provide “Full Self-Driving” software information as the technology is undergoing public road testing, a mandate which comes shortly after NHTSA opened a formal investigation into the company’s Autopilot software.
This investigation came as the agency received many vehicle crash reports involving Autopilot-equipped Teslas colliding with emergency vehicles that were stopped on highways and had warning lights flashing. The investigation itself analyzed around 765,000 vehicles–nearly the total number of Tesla vehicles sold in the United States since the 2014 model year. 17 people were injured and one died out of the crash incidents investigated.
In September, Tesla issued an over-the-internet software update explaining its intent to boost emergency vehicle light detection in low-light conditions–an update about which NHTSA requested more information when the update was sent to particular Tesla vehicles “with the stated purpose of detecting flashing emergency vehicle lights in low light conditions and then responding to said detection with driver alerts and changes to the vehicle speed while Autopilot is engaged.”
Vehicle manufacturers must alert NHTSA within five days of finding a safety defect, and they must also issue a public recall to ensure owners ample time to get the necessary repairs and so that potential buyers are well aware of any possible safety issues. Recalls are then monitored to make sure all applicable vehicles are covered and that all owners are contacted efficiently.
Because of this, industry safety advocates are wanting to help consumers understand the reality behind these new vehicle technologies becoming more commonplace–and to assume that autonomous driving is the overarching solution for roadway safety.
“It’s exciting for all of us to use technology that can help us with autonomous driving so that we can have vehicles where we don’t have to do what we’ve been doing traditionally behind the wheel–it’s wonderful, in a lot of ways,” said Levinson and Stefani’s Ken Levinson. “However, with the technology that’s out there now, there are so many challenges and safety issues that we have to address first. We can’t let the shiny object that is technology distract us from the most important thing, which is making sure our roads and highways are safe and that we’re protected. We need to make sure our friends, family, and neighbors stay alive and healthy.”
In order to achieve the safety we all want, Levinson noted that manufacturer transparency is key.
“We call on all the manufacturers and advocates for autonomous vehicles to make sure that they’re open and honest with their information, their testing, and their technology to ensure that despite the pressure to get these vehicles out on the road, they’re prioritizing the safety aspects necessary to do so,” he said. “They can’t jump the gun on this. The consequences are too extreme.”
Releasing these recall notices quickly and remaining as open as possible when it comes to safety issues with any advanced vehicle technology can be the difference between life and death–it’s not something to be lenient about, Levinson added.
“When companies hold back information on testing and aren’t forthright and open and honest, it creates a situation where we don’t know what we don’t know because companies are hiding potentially important information that deals directly with the safety of these autonomous vehicles,” he explained. “A responsible, safe company steps up and says, ‘Hey, here’s what we’re testing, here’s what we’re doing, here’s why, here’s what needs to be done to make it safer,’ instead of hiding behind the information they’re not disclosing.”