Federal authorities investigate Tesla in autopilot crashes

US government regulators are investigating Tesla’s autopilot system after cars using the feature crash into stopped emergency vehicles.

The National Road Transport Safety Administration announcement the survey Monday, and it encompasses 765,000 Teslas sold in the United States, a significant fraction of all the company’s sales in the country. The agency says the investigation will cover 11 accidents since 2018; the accidents left 17 injured and one dead.

NHTSA is looking at the entire Tesla lineup, including the S, X, 3, and Y models from the 2014 to 2021 model years. It is looking at both autopilot and traffic-sensitive cruise control, a subset of the autopilot which does not steer the vehicle but allows it to match traffic speeds.

In each of the 11 accidents, Teslas struck first responder vehicles that have been parked and marked with flashing lights, flares, illuminated arrow signs or traffic cones.

The investigation will cover the full scope of the autopilot system, including how it monitors and enforces driver attention and engagement as well as how the system detects and responds to objects and events on or near to. pavement.

You’re here has come under scrutiny for how the autopilot checks drivers for attention when the system is activated. In an evaluation of Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS), the autopilot received medium brands as part of the European New Car Assessment Program. The system has been hampered by its relative inability to keep drivers engaged in the road.

Like many other ADAS systems, autopilot requires a driver to keep their hands on the steering wheel, although such systems can be easily tricked into placing a weight on one of the spokes of the steering wheel. A recent survey of Car and driver found that it took 25 to 40 seconds for the vehicle to issue a warning when drivers took their hands off the steering wheel, depending on the model. If the drivers did not respond, the car would roll for another 30 seconds before starting to brake. At highway speeds, this could cause the system to operate without driver engagement for up to one mile.

Following a January 2018 accident in California, the National Transportation Safety Board criticized Tesla’s way of trying to keep drivers engaged. In this incident, which is also part of the NHTSA investigation, a 2014 Model S crashed into a fire truck in the high occupancy vehicle lane of Interstate 405 in Culver City. The Tesla driver had activated the autopilot and was following another vehicle into the HOV lane when the lead vehicle changed lanes to avoid the parked fire truck. The autopilot did not deviate or brake, and the driver, who was eat a bagel, did not take control of the vehicle. The Tesla struck the fire truck at 31 mph, according to the accident report.

The NTSB said driver inattention was the likely cause of the crash “due to inattention and over reliance on the vehicle’s advanced driver assistance system; the design of the Tesla autopilot, which allowed the driver to disengage from the driving task; and use of the system by the operator in a manner inconsistent with the manufacturer’s instructions and warnings. “

Tesla recently started to change how autopilot works, radar sensor ditching in models 3 and Y in favor of additional cameras. (The S and X models will retain radar for the foreseeable future.) As the accidents that are part of the NHTSA probe show, radar data does not guarantee that ADAS systems will correctly detect obstacles on the roadway, although, generally , additional sensors can help systems get a full picture of the scene. Because radar and lidar data is essentially a series of measurements, it helps determine how far a vehicle is from an object. While ADAS systems can get the same information from camera images, they require more complicated calculations than with radar or lidar. It is not clear whether the NHTSA investigation includes new camera-only Tesla models.

It’s also not clear whether the probe will affect Tesla’s so-called full self-driving feature, beta versions of which have been released for a group of drivers. Videos of the system in action show that this is a work in progress and requires the driver’s attention at all times.

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