— A Tesla Autopilot investigation has been upgraded after safety regulators allegedly found enough evidence to show there may be problems with 2014-2022 Tesla Model 3, Model S, Model X and Model Y vehicles.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration originally opened the investigation to determine why Tesla vehicles with Autopilot engaged were slamming into obvious emergency vehicles.
Several crashes happened even though the emergency vehicles, such as used by fire and police departments, had their emergency lights activated. Some crashes occurred even though road cones, flares and other devices were in place at the crash scenes.
The investigation began with 11 Tesla crashes involving first responder vehicles between January 2018 and July 2021. Five more Tesla crashes were later added to the probe.
"The agency’s analysis of these sixteen subject first responder and road maintenance vehicle crashes indicated that Forward Collision Warnings (FCW) activated in the majority of incidents immediately prior to impact and that subsequent Automatic Emergency Braking (AEB) intervened in approximately half of the collisions. On average in these crashes, Autopilot aborted vehicle control less than one second prior to the first impact." — NHTSA
Investigators collected any crash video available and based on the videos, drivers had an average of eight seconds to see the emergency vehicles before crash impacts.
Data from 11 Tesla crashes indicate no drivers took evasive actions between two to five seconds before impact. Additionally, the drivers did have their hands on the Tesla steering wheels leading up to crash impacts.
NHTSA said the investigators would evaluate similar Tesla crashes that occurred with Autopilot engaged, and regulators would also analyze how drivers are monitored when Autopilot is activated.
According to NHTSA, investigators went a step further by reviewing 191 Tesla crashes that didn't involve emergency vehicles. However, every crash involved a Tesla vehicle with Traffic-Aware Cruise Control, Autosteer, Navigate on Autopilot or Auto Lane Change activated.
Regulators threw out 85 crashes that were found to be caused by other vehicles or other external factors, and about 50 Tesla crashes indicated drivers were not paying attention while using Autopilot.
In about 25 cases, Autopilot was engaged in conditions where the feature shouldn't be activated, such as "operation on roadways other than limited access highways, or operation while in low traction or visibility environments, such as rain, snow, or ice."
NHTSA says the initial investigation indicates an upgraded investigation into 830,000 Tesla vehicles is warranted.