Companies refusing to file important documents is nothing new - perhaps to save their own bacon and think of more things they need to do, because they don’t think it matters, etc. But Tesla is especially coming under fire in an era where self-driving cars are still being actively worked on as a new innovation. US safety investigators started conducting more detailed investigations, demanding to know why Tesla didn't file recall documents when it updated its Autopilot software to better identify parked emergency vehicles. Tesla’s Autopilot software is capable of features such as advanced sensor coverage, processing power increases, and Autopilot - which introduces new features to Tesla cars with software updates that will eventually enable the car to become completely autonomous. Currently, these features require a driver sitting in the car and do not make the car fully capable of self-driving. Still, though, when the update rolled around, the National Highway Traffic Safety Association had been digging at Tesla, demanding to know why they did not file a recall. In a letter to Tesla, the NHTSA told them that if their software mitigates a defect, they must recall vehicles with the software installed.
This isn’t the first time Tesla has come under fire. In August, the NHTSA opened an investigation after receiving multiple reports that the Tesla Autopilot vehicles were crashing into parked emergency vehicles on the highway. The aforementioned letter the NHTSA wrote to Tesla was posted Wednesday, and Tesla has yet to comment. Its media department has been disbanded. The investigation conducted in August covered 765,000 vehicles - almost everything that Tesla has sold in the U.S. since the start of the 2014 model year. Of the dozen crashes identified as part of this investigation, 17 people were injured and one was killed. According to their reports, Tesla rolled out this Autopilot update this September, and the agency said Tesla is aware that federal law requires automakers to issue a recall if they find out their vehicles have safety defects.
The letter also asked for specific information regarding Tesla’s “Emergency Light Detection” update that was sent to certain 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”. Other requested details included motivation for the software update, what vehicles the update was sent to, and if the measures extend to Tesla’s entire fleet. Finally, the letter asked Tesla if it intends to file a recall, and if not, give the technical or legal reason for refusing to do so. When automakers find out about a safety defect, they must tell NHTSA within five working days, and as previously mentioned, are required by federal law to issue recalls. NHTSA monitors the recalls to make sure they cover all affected vehicles and the automakers are making proper efforts to contact all owners. Tesla must comply with these requests by November 1st or face fines of $114 million and legal action. A separate special order demanded Tesla to disclose the non-disclosure agreements signed by Tesla drivers testing the self-driving software, and if they decline to say anything, Tesla could face fines of $114 million.
This isn’t the first time Tesla has come under fire for not following regulations from the NHTSA. In January, the same old song and dance happened with 135,000 vehicles when it was revealed that their screens could suddenly go dark. Tesla ultimately agreed to recall, but the eccentric CEO of Tesla still has a long road ahead for his cars to be regarded in a safe light.