Tesla autopilot faces US investigation after 11 crashes, CEO Elon Musk defended

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U.S. security officials opened a preliminary investigation into Tesla’s autopilot after identifying 11 accidents involving the driver assistance system, officials said Monday.

The 2018 incidents included one fatal accident and seven that injured 17 people, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The agency “is committed to maintaining the highest safety standards on the country’s roads,” said a spokesman, and in order to “better understand the causes of certain Tesla crashes, the NHTSA is opening a preliminary assessment of Tesla autopilot systems.”

Tesla founder Elon Musk has defended the autopilot system and the electric car manufacturer warns that it requires “active driver supervision” behind the wheel.

However, critics, including in Congress, say the system is easy to fool and that the name of the system gives drivers a false confidence. You have asked the NHTSA to take action.

Tesla did not respond to an AFP request for comment.

The accidents cited by the NHTSA were incidents in which “various Tesla models” crashed when first responders were involved, including “some that fell directly into first responders’ vehicles,” the NHTSA spokesman said.

Three of the crashes occurred in California, others in Florida, Texas, and Massachusetts, and other states. The probe covers models Y, X, S and 3, the agency said.

“The NHTSA reminds the public that today no commercial vehicles are able to drive themselves,” said the spokesman.

“Certain advanced driver assistance functions can improve safety by helping drivers avoid accidents and reduce the severity of accidents, but as with all technology and equipment in automobiles, drivers must use them correctly and responsibly.”

News from the probe caused Tesla shares to plummet on Monday.

Investigations like the one announced on Monday sometimes lead to recalls. In June, Tesla recalled more than 285,000 cars in China because of cruise control problems that authorities said could lead to collisions there.

However, analysts said such a recall could involve a software update rather than a hardware change that would require costly device upgrades.

To the limits

Musk has a history of skirmishes with regulators, but the controversy has had little impact on Tesla’s rise over the past year and a half as the company hit key manufacturing goals.

His achievement in transforming Tesla from a young startup into a pacemaker in the electric car market is a success as other electric car startups like Lordstown Motors and Nikola have stumbled upon.

At the same time, Musk has sparked a setback from critics for enforcing or disregarding the rules for everything from his use of social media to discuss Tesla’s operations to his response to the COVID demanded by local authorities near the California plant -19 health protocols.

The Center for Auto Safety, a nonprofit group, has been urging US officials since 2018 to suspend the “Autopilot” name because the nickname is believed to be misleading.

Jason Levine, executive director of the center, welcomed the news of the NHTSA investigation but said it should go “far beyond” accidents with first-aid vehicles “because all drivers, passengers and pedestrians are at risk when the autopilot is on” he said in an email to AFP.

“Whether to disable the autopilot or use driver monitoring systems to prevent these crashes is a question for the NHTSA,” Levine said. “But there is no question that something must be done quickly to prevent further injuries and deaths.”

Morningstar analyst Seth Goldstein said the most likely outcome of the investigation will be a software update and additional warnings about the limits of autopilot.

“We believe the incidents underscore the need for Tesla to continue improving its autonomous software before the company is likely to see a large increase in sales of its subscription-based, fully self-driving software,” Goldstein said in a note.

Testers from Consumer Reports magazine showed in a video that autopilot can be tricked into driving without someone at the wheel, a trick that is also shown in widespread videos on TikTok and other social media platforms.

In April, Connecticut Democratic Senators Richard Blumenthal and Massachusetts Ed Markey called on the NHTSA to investigate a fatal accident involving a Tesla in Texas after law enforcement officials said there was no driver behind the wheel.

Tesla has said it doesn’t believe the April crash involved autopilot.

Tesla shares fell 4.3 percent to close at $ 686.17 (about Rs 50,980 billion).

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