NHTSA Turns up the Heat on Tesla Autopilot Probe

Investigation has Tesla facing significant penalties if more detailed data is not sent by July 19

Graham Hope

July 6, 2023

2 Min Read
Getty Images

Auto safety regulators are turning up the heat on Tesla over its assisted driving technology.

As part of its ongoing investigation into Autopilot, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has sent Elon Musk’s company a letter requesting detailed information on the systems by no later than July 19.

The letter was also published on the NHTSA website, and states that failure to comply with the request will cause Tesla to face significant penalties of up to $26,315 per violation per day up to a maximum of $131,564,183 for a series of violations.

The information required relates to a safety probe that got underway in mid-2021 into a string of collisions involving Teslas running the firm’s Autopilot advanced driver assistance system (ADAS) tech and stationary first responder vehicles.

In August 2022, the probe was upgraded to an engineering analysis, which is normally considered the last stage of the investigation process before a recall is required. Requests for information were sent to Tesla at that point, including details of the company’s on-board, camera-based monitoring system which is supposed to send alerts to the human behind the wheel if they are not paying attention while the ADAS tech is operating.

Despite bearing the names Autopilot and Full Self Driving – an even more advanced ADAS offering – Tesla’s systems are not fully autonomous and require the driver to be able to take control at any time. They only control acceleration, braking and steering in certain circumstances.

Related:NHTSA Escalates Investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot

Now the NHTSA wants “current data/updates to Tesla’s responses to three requests sent… on August 18, 2022.”

Specifically, Tesla has been asked to “describe all modifications or changes made by, or on behalf of, Tesla in the design, material composition, manufacture, quality control, supply, function or installation of the subject system, from the start of production to date, which relate to, or may relate to driver engagement / attentiveness and OEDR [object and event detection and response]”. The vehicles covered by this request are “all Tesla vehicles, model years 2014-2023, equipped with the subject system at any time.”

Essentially what this means is that the NHTSA would like to know what hardware and software is fitted to hundreds of thousands of Tesla models across the U.S., state by state. Included in this are more than FSD-equipped 360,000 cars that were recalled earlier this year due to a crash risk at intersections.

Where the probe is heading remains unclear, but Tesla now has less than two weeks to provide the necessary information before it becomes liable for some stiff penalties.

Related:Tesla Autopilot Probe Moves to Next Level

The automaker no longer has a public relations department to deal with media inquiries and has not commented publicly on the NHTSA request.

About the Author(s)

Graham Hope

Graham Hope has worked in automotive journalism in the U.K. for 26 years, including spells as editor of leading consumer news website and weekly Auto Express and respected buying guide CarBuyer.

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