Tesla Autopilot investigation closed after FBI finds 13 fatal crashes linked to misuse

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has concluded a long-running investigation into Tesla's Autopilot driver assistance system after reviewing hundreds of abuse crashes, including 13 with fatalities and “many more with serious injuries.”

At the same time, NHTSA is opening a new investigation to evaluate whether the Autopilot recall that Tesla implemented in December is effective enough.

NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation said in documents released Friday that it had completed “an extensive body of work” showing that “Tesla's weak driver engagement system was not suited to Autopilot's permissive operational capabilities.”

“This mismatch resulted in a critical safety gap between driver expectations [Autopilot’s] operational capabilities and the actual capabilities of the system,” the agency wrote. “This gap led to foreseeable abuse and avoidable crashes.”

The conclusion of the initial investigation, which began in 2021, marks the end of one of the government's most visible efforts to scrutinize Tesla's Autopilot software. The Justice Department is also investigating the company's claims about the technology, and the California Department of Motor Vehicles has accused Tesla of falsely advertising the capabilities of Autopilot and the more advanced Full Self-Driving beta software. Tesla, meanwhile, is going “balls to the wall for autonomy,” according to CEO Elon Musk.

NHTSA said the investigation reviewed 953 reported crashes through August 30, 2023. In about half (489) of those, the agency said there was “insufficient data to make an assessment,” that the other vehicle was at fault, or that Autopilot was at fault. not in use, or the crash was otherwise unrelated to the probe.

NHTSA said the remaining 467 crashes fell into three buckets. There were many (211) crashes in which “the Tesla's frontal plane struck another vehicle or obstacle with sufficient time for an attentive driver to react to prevent or mitigate the crash. It said 145 crashes involved “lane departure in low-traction conditions, such as wet roads. And it said 111 of the crashes involved “lane departures where Autosteer was inadvertently disabled by driver input.”

This story develops…

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