Tesla recalls over 2 million US vehicles to install new Autopilot safeguards following NHTSA concerns over 'foreseeable misuse' and potential driver negligence risks; Tesla to issue over-the-air software update with additional controls and driver alerts

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December 13, 2023 (press release) –

WASHINGTON - Tesla is recalling just over two million vehicles in the United States fitted with its Autopilot advanced driver-assistance system to install new safeguards, after a safety regulator said the system was open to "foreseeable misuse."

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has been investigating the electric automaker led by billionaire Elon Musk for more than two years over whether Tesla vehicles adequately ensure that drivers pay attention when using the driver assistance system.

Tesla said in the recall filing that Autopilot's software system controls "may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse" and could increase the risk of a crash.

Acting NHTSA Administrator Ann Carlson told Reuters in August it's "really important that driver monitoring systems take into account that humans over-trust technology."

Tesla's Autopilot is intended to enable cars to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within their lane, while enhanced Autopilot can assist in changing lanes on highways but does not make them autonomous.

One component of Autopilot is Autosteer, which maintains a set speed or following distance and works to keep vehicles in its driving lane.

Tesla said it did not agree with NHTSA's analysis but would deploy an over-the-air software update that will "incorporate additional controls and alerts to those already existing on affected vehicles to further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility whenever Autosteer is engaged."

The company did not respond to a question on whether the recall would be performed outside the United States.

'Foreseeable Misuse'

NHTSA opened a probe in August 2021 into Autopilot after identifying more than a dozen crashes in which Tesla vehicles hit stationary emergency vehicles and upgraded it in June 2022.NHTSA said as a result of its investigation Tesla had issued the recall after the agency found "Tesla's unique design of its Autopilot system can provide inadequate driver engagement and usage controls that can lead to foreseeable misuse of the system."

Separately, since 2016, NHTSA has opened more than three dozen Tesla special crash investigations in cases where driver systems such as Autopilot were suspected of being used, with 23 crash deaths reported to date.

NHTSA said there may be an increased risk of a crash in situations when the system is engaged but the driver does not maintain responsibility for vehicle operation and is unprepared to intervene or fails to recognize when it is canceled or not.

NHTSA's investigation into Autopilot will remain open as it monitors the efficacy of Tesla’s remedies. Tesla and NHTSA held several meetings since mid-October to discuss the agency's tentative conclusions on potential driver misuse and Tesla’s proposed software remedies in response.

The company will roll out the update to 2.03 million Model S, X, 3 and Y vehicles in the United States dating back to the 2012 model year, the agency said.

The update based on vehicle hardware will include increasing prominence of visual alerts on the user interface, simplifying engagement and disengagement of Autosteer and additional checks upon engaging Autosteer "and eventual suspension from Autosteer use if the driver repeatedly fails to demonstrate continuous and sustained driving responsibility while the feature is engaged," Tesla said.

It did not provide more specifics about exactly how alerts and safeguards would change.

Shares in the world's most valuable automaker were down 1% in premarket trading.

Tesla disclosed in October that the U.S. Justice Department had issued subpoenas related to its Full Self-Driving (FSD) and Autopilot systems. Reuters reported in October 2022 that Tesla was under criminal investigation over claims the company's electric vehicles could drive themselves.

Tesla in February recalled 362,000 U.S. vehicles to update its FSD Beta software after NHTSA said the vehicles did not adequately adhere to traffic safety laws and could cause crashes.

NHTSA closed an earlier investigation into Autopilot in 2017 without taking any action. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has criticized Tesla for a lack of system safeguards for Autopilot, and NHTSA for a failure to ensure the safety of Autopilot.

(Reporting by Mrinmay Dey and Aditya Soni in Bengaluru and David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Arun Koyyur and Mark Potter)

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