US lawmakers demand briefing on Tesla safety probes from federal regulators

Two U.S. lawmakers who chair subcommittees overseeing auto safety have asked the federal auto safety regulator for a briefing on its investigations into crashes involving Tesla Inc electric vehicles using Autopilot and advanced driver assistance systems , according to a letter seen by Reuters.

US Senator Gary Peters and Representative Jan Schakowsky, both Democrats, said in the letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) that they are concerned that “recent federal investigations and reports have revealed troubling safety issues “at Tesla.

The lawmakers asked “given the increasing number of fatalities involving Tesla vehicles crashing into tractor-trailers…has NHTSA considered investigating this issue?”

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The letter added “Is NHTSA balancing the rigor of the investigation with addressing urgent and emerging motor vehicle safety risks?” and whether the agency has sufficient resources and legal authority to properly investigate advanced driver assistance systems.

Tesla is in the hot seat as two US lawmakers seek a briefing on their investigations into Tesla’s safety issues. Pictured: Teslas parked in front of Tesla Inc’s U.S. vehicle factory in Fremont, California, U.S., March 18, 2020. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton/File Photo/Reuters)

NHTSA did not immediately comment. In July, NHTSA Administrator Steve Cliff told Reuters he wanted to complete the investigation into Tesla’s advanced driver assistance system, Autopilot “as quickly as possible, but I want to also get it right. There’s a lot of information that we have to comb through.”

Tesla, which has dissolved its press office, did not immediately comment. Tesla’s website says Autopilot allows vehicles to steer, accelerate, and brake automatically and “requires active driver supervision and does not make the vehicle self-driving.”

Since 2016, NHTSA has opened 38 special investigations into crashes involving Tesla vehicles and where advanced driver assistance systems such as Autopilot were suspected of being used. A total of 19 accidental deaths have been reported in these Tesla-related investigations.

Last month, NHTSA said it had opened a special investigation into the crash of a 2020 Tesla Model 3 vehicle that killed a motorcyclist in Utah.

In June, NHTSA upgraded its investigation into defects in 830,000 Tesla vehicles with Autopilot involving crashes with parked emergency vehicles, a necessary step before they can request a recall. This survey was first launched in August 2021.

On June 15, NHTSA said Tesla had reported 273 vehicle crashes since July 2021 involving advanced driver assistance systems, more than any other automaker.

The lawmakers asked if NHTSA had determined whether Tesla had safeguards in place to prevent advanced driver assistance systems “from being activated when the vehicle is not in the appropriate operating conditions?”

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The National Transportation Safety Board and others have questioned whether Tesla is doing enough to ensure drivers pay attention when using Autopilot.

“Has an NHTSA investigation found that a design that allows an ADAS to operate in circumstances for which it is not designed constitutes a defect?” wrote the lawmakers, using the acronym Advanced Driver Assistance Systems.

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