Suffice it to say, Tesla’s latest Autopilot dust-up didn't go unnoticed by regulators. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration (NHTSA) has asked the automaker to deliver all the available data it has about its driver assistance system, Autopilot, by October 22, 2021.
The agency’s reason is simple: it wants to ascertain whether the Autopilot mechanism has a safety defect that causes Tesla vehicles to hit emergency vehicles.
In its letter to Tesla, the agency said it 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 investigation will additionally assess the [object and event detection and response feature] by vehicles when engaged in Autopilot mode, and [operational design domain] in which the Autopilot mode is functional. The investigation will also include examination of the contributing circumstances for the confirmed crashes ... and other similar crashes.”
While the NHTSA didn't threaten Tesla with the possibility of a recall, it does have that power. Truth be known, the agency was already laying the groundwork for a Tesla investigation. CNBC previously reported that officials began a safety probe in mid-August after they established that Autopilot was in use before collisions between Tesla electric cars and first responder vehicles -- accidents responsible for 17 injuries and one fatality.
Undaunted, Tesla carries on -- to the point that it’s penciled in its next Full Self-Driving Beta public release for later this month.
Yes, automated driving is the future, but…
The NHTSA admits that automated driving is on the horizon, but the technology isn’t perfect yet. The agency continues to define Autopilot as a level 2 driver assistance tool since it requires driver supervision at all times.
Tesla has already sided with the agency's point of view, stating that the Autopilot feature requires "active driver supervision" and does not "make the vehicle autonomous."
Unfortunately for Tesla, it has stuck its neck out to support Autopilot and suffers the feature’s woes in the public eye more than other automakers, like Uber, that are invested in autonomous driving.
Since Tesla is the most marketed brand in the self-driving chase, it tends to garner a lot of sales from consumers who want to be on the cutting edge. And there’s a lot of consumers who want to be part of the Autopilot world, too. Enough that Teslas with the Autopilot feature have racked up hundreds of millions of road miles and an estimated $3 billion in additional sales for the company.