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NHTSA asks Tesla why it didn’t issue recall after latest software update

The agency wants to know if Tesla plans on addressing issues throughout its entire fleet

Tesla Model 3 on road
Photo (c) Sundry Photography - Getty Images
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) wants to know why Tesla failed to initiate a recall when it sent the automobile’s owners a safety-related software update in September. Tesla’s reason for updating the car’s software was a direct response to an issue created by the vehicle’s tendency to hit vehicles that have flashing lights or are near scenes with flares, road cones, and illuminated arrow boards.

NHTSA had earlier initiated a separate probe into Tesla Autopilot over possible safety defects. The agency cited crash data suggesting that the system may have difficulty seeking parked emergency vehicles. However, Autoweek reports that after the NHTSA launched that investigation, the automaker admitted that its Autopilot driver-assist system can now detect emergency lights and slow down the vehicle -- but only at night.

A procedural move?

The NHTSA’s complaint appears to be more procedural than anything. 

“As Tesla is aware, the Safety Act imposes an obligation on manufacturers of motor vehicles and motor vehicle equipment to initiate a recall by notifying NHTSA when they determine vehicles or equipment they produced contain defects related to motor vehicle safety or do not comply with an applicable motor vehicle safety standard,” the agency’s letter reads.

“This recall notice must be filed with NHTSA no more than five working days after the manufacturer knew or should have known of the safety defect or noncompliance. … Any manufacturer issuing an over-the-air update that mitigates a defect that poses an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety is required to timely file an accompanying recall notice to NHTSA.”

The NHTSA says it still wants more information

Whether it’s procedural or not, the agency says it needs Tesla to provide certain documentation it may have surrounding the software update so that NHTSA staff can “evaluate the alleged defect.” The list of things the agency is asking for includes: 

  • A chronology of events, internal investigations, and studies that led to Tesla’s deployment of the Emergency Light Detection Update. 

  • A complete list and description of field incidents or other events that motivated the release of the update.

  • Any measures to extend this capability more broadly throughout Tesla’s fleet.

  • The reasoning for instances where a vehicle cannot accept the update.

Do you own a Tesla?

If you’re a Tesla owner who has not yet installed the company’s latest update, you would be wise to research Tesla’s software update procedures and ask questions if you have concerns.

Consumers who want to know if their particular Tesla model is part of any safety recall can easily find out by putting in their car’s Vehicle Identification Number on Tesla’s website. Owners can also sign up for Tesla’s emails, which include information on things like service updates and recalls.

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