NHTSA Investigating Autopilot Braking Issue for 416K Teslas

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is investigating about 416,000 late model Tesla vehicles for what some call “phantom braking.”

Tesla full self driving 2020
NHTSA said it received more than 350 complaints about late model Tesla vehicles suddenly braking so it’s opened an investigation.

The query, which covers 2021-22 Tesla Model 3 and Model Y vehicles, focuses on random brake activation while the vehicle’s Autopilot system is engaged. NHTSA received 354 complaints about the issue in the last nine months, reported Reuters.

Federal safety officials are now reviewing the problem. “Complainants report that the rapid deceleration can occur without warning, at random, and often repeatedly in a single drive cycle.”

Some of the vehicle owners said they reported the problem to Tesla, which dismissed it as “normal.” Other owners, according to the NHTSA filing, described it as “phantom braking.” Thus far, no crashes, injurie or fatalities have been attributed to the problem.

One owner reported in October that while driving on a Model Y on the highway at 80 mph “the car braked hard and decelerated from 80 mph to 69 mph in less than a second. The braking was so violent, my head snapped forward and I almost lost control of the car.”

Tesla Model 3 - RHD
About 416,000 2021 and 2022 Tesla Model 3s are being investigated.

For now, the issue is being investigated. It is the step before NHTSA issues a recall. No timetable has been set to complete the probe.

Other recalls and investigations

NHTSA’s been focusing on problems related to Tesla’s Autopilot semi-autonomous driving technology in recent months. In sharp focus is an ongoing investigation into a dozen crashes with emergency vehicles on the side of the road, involved in some sort of emergency, while the system was in use.

The Autopilot system — which relies on a mix of sensor devices, microprocessors and software — was first introduced in mid-2014. The technology is designed to help keep vehicles like the Tesla Models S, X, 3 and Y in their lane, keep the vehicle safely spaced in traffic and avoid collisions.

2021 Tesla Model Y blue
The investigation includes 2021 and 2022 Tesla Model Y crossovers as well.

It’s been at the center of controversy for some time for the automaker, not just for the dozen crashes mentioned earlier, but for scores of others during the past several years. This latest investigation is tough because Tesla’s in the midst of beta testing its full self-driving program, which has not been without its own issues.

Despite that, CEO Elon Musk adamantly defended the tech, saying it was much better than human drivers and would be in place soon. He noted during the company’s earnings call last month the goal is to be better than human drivers, which he thinks isn’t too difficult. Once the technology is deemed viable, it’s a matter of simply using an over-the-air update for the vehicles with subscriptions. 

“I would be shocked if we do not achieve full self-driving cars that are safer than a human this year. I would be shocked.”

A few days later, Tesla recalled 54,000 vehicles with full self-driving due to an issue with “rolling stops.”

The technology allows for a “rolling stop,” which permits it to go through intersections at up to 5.6 mph. According to the automaker, the feature is only supposed to work if there are no moving vehicles, pedestrians or bicyclists near the intersection.

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