Tesla’s self-driving cars have been the subject of multiple investigations and lawsuits in the past few years. As of last month, safety regulators from the federal government have placed Tesla under yet another investigation regarding the company’s behavior after at least 12 of its cars with Autopilot engaged crashed into emergency vehicles.
Obviously, cars that crash into emergency vehicles are incredibly unsafe for everyone on the road. If you have a Tesla, here’s what you need to know about the current investigation, the root of the problem, and what to do if you believe your car isn’t safe to drive.
Accidents with Parked Emergency Vehicles Caused Tesla Investigation
In August of 2021, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) opened an investigation into vehicles regarding their autopilot capabilities. The investigation is wide-reaching, covering Tesla Models Y, X, S, and 3 cars made between 2014 and 2021.
It was spurred on by 12 individual crashes in which the manufacturer’s Autopilot and Traffic Awareness Cruise Control systems were engaged. All of these crashes involved a parked or stationary emergency vehicle with flashing lights. The drivers in these incidents were apparently not aware enough of their surroundings to avoid crashing into a parked vehicle with actively flashing emergency signals.
These accidents led to at least 17 injuries and one death. The NHTSA is currently investigating the manufacturer to determine the root of these accidents and whether this emergency vehicle recognition failure requires legal action.
However, this isn’t the only investigation the company is facing. As of October, 2021, the NHTSA has opened a second investigation regarding Tesla’s management of Autopilot and emergency vehicle recognition.
The new investigation isn’t directly related to the cause of these accidents, however. Instead, it comes after the company quietly released an over-the-air update to its vehicles intended to fix programming and prevent future accidents. Regulators from the NHTSA state that this doesn’t meet the agency’s rules regarding safety notifications.
The company must instead follow the federal Safety Act. This law requires car manufacturers to both notify the NHTSA of known safety defects and issue a recall regarding those defects within five business days. By failing to do so, Tesla may be in contravention of federal law unless the company can explain the technical or legal reasoning behind its decision.
Why Tesla Faces So Much Scrutiny
Why is the government looking at Tesla’s behavior so closely? For several reasons. First, Tesla’s autopilot programs are some of the first on the road. There simply isn’t enough precedent for self-driving cars to set reasonable laws and expectations for them. As a result, Tesla and the NHTSA’s reactions to the company are setting these precedents. Everything the NHTSA does and permits the company to do will be used as evidence in future self-driving car situations, so the agency is being appropriately cautious.
Second, the manufacturer is one of just a few car companies that can purportedly push vehicle “repairs” through the internet. There simply hasn’t been another situation in which a car manufacturer claimed to be able to perform the “repairs” necessary to fix a safety flaw without issuing recall. The new investigation requires Tesla to prove that its decision not to issue a recall is technically sound.
Are You At Risk of Tesla Errors?
The cars involved in the NHTSA investigation cover almost every year and model the company has produced. If you own a Tesla with autopilot features, there’s a good chance that your vehicle is one of the ones with the potential emergency light recognition problem. Before the software update, you were likely at risk of an accident like the ones that spurred the original NHTSA enquiry.
Furthermore, there’s no current proof from the manufacturer that the update actually fixes the problem. While the company states that the software patch will “improve” emergency light recognition, there’s no clear explanation of how this improvement works or what it entails.
Finally, self-driving cars are so complex that it’s possible for even a small change could cause significant problems. It’s not impossible that any given update could actually include a flaw that’s worse than the issue it fixed.
This is a regular occurrence with automatic updates performed by respected, established businesses like Apple and Microsoft, after all. Tesla has been around for less time and the potential flaws have a much greater impact. Trusting that the company is somehow immune from problems like that could put you at risk.
What to Do If Your Tesla Is a Lemon
The next question is simple. What are you supposed to do if you believe your car is unsafe? You can a few potential courses of action.
First, be extremely cautious when using any autopilot or self-driving features in your car. Either drive your vehicle manually or pay just as much attention to the road as you would if you were driving yourself. It’s clear that Tesla’s self-driving features are still full of unexpected bugs, so you need to be ready to take over if it’s about to crash you into something.
You should also keep an eye out for recalls issued by the manufacturer. The NHTSA may require the company to recall vehicles and perform hard updates and repairs depending on the results of its enquiries.
Finally, if you’re still concerned about your car, you can consider a lemon law claim. In California, you can pursue repairs or even refunds from car manufacturers if they sold you a car with defects. Even if a recall isn’t issued, a lemon claim can help you get your car in a state that’s safe to use.
The concept behind Tesla’s technology is interesting, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. The road is a complicated place, after all. The fact that self-driving cars are getting in accidents isn’t surprising. However, you still deserve a vehicle that’s safe to use.
If you’re worried about your car, you can get in touch with a qualified lemon law attorney. The right lawyer will help you understand your options and figure out how to get a car that you can trust. Get started today by scheduling your consultation.