WASHINGTON (Agencies): Tesla is recalling nearly all 2 million of its cars on US roads to limit the use of its Autopilot feature following a two-year probe by US safety regulators of roughly 1,000 crashes in which the feature was engaged.
The limitations on Autopilot serve as a blow to Tesla’s efforts to market its vehicles to buyers willing to pay extra to have their cars do the driving for them.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the Autopilot system can give drivers a false sense of security and be easily misused in certain dangerous situations when a Tesla’s technology may be unable to safely navigate the road. The over-the-air software update will give Tesla drivers more warnings when they are not paying attention to the road while the Autopilot’s “Autosteer” function is turned on. Those notifications will remind drivers to keep their hands on the wheel and pay attention to the road, according to a statement from NHTSA.
After the recall, Teslas with Autosteer turned on will more routinely check on the driver’s attention level – and may disengage the feature – when the software determines the driver isn’t paying attention, when the car is approaching traffic controls, or when it’s off the highway when Autosteer alone isn’t sufficient to drive the car.
The recall was disclosed in a letter to Tesla posted by NHTSA, which said that Tesla had agreed to the software update starting on Tuesday that will limit the use of the Autosteer feature if a driver repeatedly fails to demonstrate he or she is ready to resume control of the car while the feature is on.
Tesla has been pushing its driver-assist features, including Autopilot and what it calls “Full Self Driving,” which Tesla has insisted make driving safer than cars operated exclusively by humans. But NHTSA has been studying reports of accidents involving Autopilot and its Autosteer function for more than two years.
The recall comes two days after a detailed investigation was published by the Washington Post that found at least eight serious accidents, including some fatalities, in which the Autopilot feature should not have been engaged in the first place.
Tesla’s owners manuals say: “Autosteer is intended for use only on highways and limited-access roads with a fully attentive driver.” But the company has pushed the idea that its driver assist features allow the cars to safely make most driving decisions even away from those roads.
A NHTSA investigation, however, has found numerous accidents over the past several years that suggest that these features do not live up to their names of Autopilot and Full Self Driving.
The safety regulator in its letter to Tesla said “in certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse [of the feature.]” It said that when drivers are not fully engaged and ready to take control of the car “there may be an increased risk of a crash.”
In addition to the software updates, Tesla will mail letters to car owners notifying them of the change.