Safety investigators from the United States are seeking for answers from Tesla as to why the company did not file recall documents when the electric car company updated the Autopilot software that would help in better identifying emergency vehicles, surging up a simmering tension between Tesla and regulators.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) in a letter to Tesla instructed the company to recall vehicles in the event an over-the-internet update deals with a safety defect.
In a letter to Eddie Gates, Tesla’s director of field quality the agency wrote:
“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 also instructed Tesla to provide information about its “Full Self-Driving” software currently being tested on public roads with some owners.
The latest impasse may be another proof of escalating tensions between the automobile company and the vehicle safety regulating agency, NHTSA.
The agency had in August this year began an investigation into Tesla’s ‘Autopilot software’ after it was availed of multiple reports of vehicles crashing into emergency vehicles with warning lights flashing that were stopped on highways. The software ordinarily should keep cars in their lane and at a safe distance from vehicles in front of them.
The NHTSA started a formal investigation in ‘Autopilot’ in the wake of reported collisions with parked emergency vehicles, with the investigation covering 765,000 vehicles, with 17 people injured and one dead out of the dozen crashes that were part of the investigation.
NHTSA further revealed Tesla performed an over-the-internet software update late September with the intention to improve emergency vehicle lights detection in low-light conditions. The agency further goes on to say the electric car company knows that part of the federal law requirements is that automakers are meant to do a recall if it was discovered that vehicles have safety defects.
Information was required from Tesla about its ‘Emergency Light Detection Update’ sent to some vehicles “with the stated purpose of detecting flashing emergency vehicle lights in low light conditions and then responding to said detection with driver alerts and changes to the vehicle speed while Autopilot is engaged.”
In the NHTSA letter, questions were asked on lists of events that prompted the software update, and also the vehicles it was sent to and to whether the update was extended to the entire car fleet of Tesla.
Tesla was also asked whether it has the intention of filing recall documents and if it’s not doing so, it want to be furnished with the technical and/or legal basis for not doing so,
Philip Koopman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, who also studied automated vehicle safety, believes NHTSA clear intention is asking Tesla to issue a recall. “They’re giving Tesla a chance to have their say before they bring the hammer down”
In the event automakers discover safety defects, NHTSA must be informed within five working days, after which a recall must be done. The agency then monitors the recall to ensure all affected vehicles are recalled, with automakers required to let all vehicle owners know with letters analyzing the repairs, and the bill must be footed by the company.
With a public recall, vehicle owners would be sure repairs are done, with prospective buyers of the cars having the leverage to be aware of potential safety problems.
NHTSA’s actions intimates all automakers that in the event of software update being done through the internet, they have to be reported to the agency if they fix a safety problem. It’s another new technology that the agency has to deal with as numerous automakers follow Tesla with internet software capability.
“Now every company has exposure every time they do an over-the-air update because NHTSA may come back weeks later and say ‘wait a minute, that was a stealth recall,’” Koopman said.
The agency further wrote that Tesla has till November 1, 2021 has to comply with its demand or face court action and civil fines of more than $114 million.