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NHTSA opens investigation into Tesla over 'phantom braking'

The agency said it’s diving into both the scope and the severity of the issue

Tesla charging at station
Photo (c) moisseyev - Getty Images
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is calling Tesla on the carpet again. This time, the agency is investigating the automaker over concerns of sudden unexpected braking -- or "phantom braking."

The agency is reportedly dealing with a heavy load of reports about the issue. Officials have received 354 reports over the course of nine months for two specific Tesla models: the 2021 and 2022 Tesla Model 3 and Model Y. The probe could ultimately impact approximately 416,000 Tesla vehicles.

Tesla and the NHTSA are certainly getting to know each other well. Earlier this year, the automaker recalled over 50,000 vehicles over issues with its Autopilot feature after the agency voiced its concerns. In late 2021, NHTSA officials moved forward with an investigation over concerns that various Tesla models allow passengers to play video games on the front center touchscreen while the vehicle is in motion. 

Phantom braking is a growing concern

The alleged “phantom braking” problem is likely a growing concern for Tesla. The Washington Post reports that there has been a sharp uptick in the number of reports about the issue, which is supposedly caused by a glitch in the cars’ forward collision warning and automatic emergency braking systems. It occurs when Tesla’s cars suddenly slow down in response to falsely detected hazards.

“The complaints allege that while utilizing the [advanced driver-assistance] features including adaptive cruise control, the vehicle unexpectedly applies its brakes while driving at highway speeds,” the NHTSA stated. “Complainants report that the rapid deceleration can occur without warning, at random, and often repeatedly in a single drive cycle.”

The Post said the NHTSA received close to 250 reports about phantom braking over just a two-week span after its original article about the glitch. Comparatively, only 107 reports had been lodged in the previous three months, and only 34 in the preceding 22 months.

An NHTSA spokesperson said its next step is to “determine the scope and severity of the potential problem and fully assess the potential safety-related issues.”

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