The acting head of the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) told Reuters the agency will conclude a two-year investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot and may issue an announcement soon. “We’re going to reach a resolution on (the Tesla investigation),” Acting NHTSA Administrator Ann Carlson told Reuters in an interview at the agency’s headquarters.

Referring to advanced driver assistance systems, she said: “The driver’s attention is very important. It is also very important that the driver monitoring system takes into account the excessive human trust in technology.”

She declined to discuss how Tesla’s investigation would be resolved, but added “hopefully you will hear back soon.” Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The agency is investigating the capabilities of Autopilot after uncovering more than a dozen accidents in which Tesla vehicles had crashed into stationary emergency vehicles. It is also investigating whether Tesla vehicles do enough to ensure drivers are paying attention when using driver assistance systems.

In June 2022, NHTSA upgraded its investigation to an engineering analysis of 830,000 Tesla vehicles first opened in August 2021 — a necessary step before a recall could be called for. Last month, NHTSA sought Tesla’s updated response and current data in its investigation.

Autopilot is designed to enable cars to steer, accelerate and brake autonomously within lanes, while Enhanced Autopilot can assist with lane changes on highways.

In addition, since 2016, NHTSA has launched three dozen special accident investigations into Tesla vehicles suspected of using driver systems such as Autopilot, and has reported 23 accident deaths so far.

Carlson noted that the Autopilot investigation is “complicated” given the number of accidents being investigated. “It’s a big number, and we’re working on it,” Carlson said.

NHTSA has previously said evidence cast doubt on the effectiveness of Tesla’s alert tactics designed to grab driver attention.

In 2022, nine of 11 vehicles in previous collisions did not show driver involvement or a visual or sounding alarm until the last minute before the collision, while four did not, the agency said. There were no visual or audible alerts at all during the autopilot usage cycle.

NHTSA closed an earlier investigation into Autopilot in 2017 without taking any action. The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) criticized Tesla for its lack of system assurance for Autopilot, and NHTSA for failing to ensure Autopilot’s safety.

NTSB Chair Jennifer Homendy said NHTSA should require automakers “to incorporate system safeguards that limit the use of automated vehicle control systems to the conditions for which they were designed.”

© Thomson Reuters 2023

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