U.S. auto regulators have opened a preliminary investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot advanced driver assistance system, citing 11 incidents in which vehicles crashed into parked first responder vehicles while the system was engaged.
The Tesla vehicles involved in the collisions were confirmed to have either have had engaged Autopilot or a feature called Traffic Aware Cruise Control, according to investigation documents posted on the National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration’s website. Most of the incidents took place after dark and occurred despite “scene control measures,” such as emergency vehicle lights, road cones and an illuminated arrow board signaling drivers to change lanes.
“The investigation will assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation,” the document says.
The investigation covers around 765,000 Tesla vehicles that span all currently available models: Tesla Model Y, Model X, Model S and Model 3. The 11 incidents or fires resulted in 17 injuries and one fatality. They occurred between January 2018 and July 2021.
This is not the first time Tesla’s Autopilot has fallen under the scrutiny of NHTSA, the country’s top vehicle safety regulator. In 2017, the agency investigated an incident that resulted in a fatal crash in 2016, though the EV maker was found to be at no-fault in the accident. NHSTA has investigated a further 25 crashes involving Tesla’s ADAS since, the Associated Press reported when it broke the story Monday.
In June, NHTSA issued an order requiring automakers to report crashes involving vehicles equipped with ADAS or Levels 3-5 of automated driving systems.
“NHTSA reminds the public that no commercially available motor vehicles today are capable of driving themselves,” an agency spokesperson told TechCrunch on Monday.
TechCrunch has reached out to Tesla, which has dissolved its media relations division, for comment, and will update the story if the company responds.
Update: In the wake of the announcement of a formal investigation into Tesla Autopilot, special interest group Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety released a statement calling for “minimum performance standards” for vehicles equipped with ADAS.
The group urged legislators to move forward with a suite of “commonsense safety measures,” like requiring the U.S. Department of Transportation to issue safety standards for ADAS. These standards were included in the House version of the infrastructure bill, but were stripped out of the version of the $1.2 trillion bill ultimately passed by the Senate on August 10.
“As the legislative process for the infrastructure package and reconciliation continues, we urge the Biden Administration and Congress to move forward with the safety advances in the INVEST in America Act,” the group said in a statement.