Tesla Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) has faced scrutiny off and on over the years over its Autopilot self-driving technology, and regulators are now taking a fresh look at it after 23 recent accidents. In each of those accidents, the driver may have been using Autopilot, although they are under investigation.
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Tesla faces new scrutiny over Autopilot
The New York Times noted that Tesla dealt with multiple questions about Autopilot following a fatal crash in Florida in 2016. The self-driving cameras and sensors did not see and break for a semi crossing a road. Now Tesla faces much more scrutiny than it has over the last five years. However, the automaker and CEO Elon Musk have long said that Autopilot makes its vehicles safer than other cars.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is now looking into 23 recent accidents involving Tesla vehicles that were either using Autopilot or might have been using it. In one accident involving a Model Y earlier this month, the SUV rear-ended a police car that was stopped on a highway in Michigan. Although the driver wasn’t seriously injured, police said he had been using Autopilot.
Last month also in Michigan, there was an accident similar to the 2016 wreck in Florida. A Tesla car drove underneath a semi that was crossing the road, and the roof came off, causing serious injuries to the driver and their passenger. Investigators haven’t said if the driver was using Autopilot at the time of the crash.
Federal investigators are also looking into another crash last month outside Houston. A Tesla slammed into a stopped police car on a highway, but it’s unclear whether the driver had engaged Autopilot. The vehicle didn’t seem to decelerate before slamming into the police vehicle.
Details on the investigation
Tesla’s Autopilot uses cameras and radar to detect other vehicles, lane markings and objects. The computerized system can accelerate, brake and steer without much driver input. Tesla has said drivers should only use it on divided highways, but videos posted on social networks show drivers using it on a variety of different kinds of roads.
University of South Carolina Professor Bryant Walker Smith told The New York Times that he was concerned about Tesla’s Autopilot, including its name and how the automaker markets it. He echoed the concerns of other experts in the field, who previously said the name suggests drivers can stop paying attention to the road.
Tesla hasn’t provided any comments on the recent investigations. Although it can detect whether Autopilot was engaged at the time of the crashes, it hasn’t said either way.
Tesla is part of the Entrepreneur Index, which tracks 60 of the largest publicly traded companies managed by their founders or their founders’ families.