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Man looking at his phone while driving with Autopilot engaged - car modeled after Tesla

NHTSA Launches Investigation into Tesla Autopilot After 17 Injuries and 1 Death

Tesla is no stranger to scrutiny, but today (Monday, August 16, 2021), the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) launched a formal investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot system. The investigation covers 765,000 vehicles built between 2014 and 2021 and a series of 11 crashes that led to 17 injuries and 1 death.

Failure to Respond to Warnings

According to the NHTSA, Tesla vehicles “encountered first responder scenes and subsequently struck one or more vehicles” in all 11 accidents. The Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control features were engaged in all vehicles, seemingly thwarted by flashing lights, flares, and other warnings.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has been encouraging the NHTSA to act since the Autopilot feature was first linked to accidents in 2016. In fact, the NTSB recommended that the NHTSA and Tesla limit the use of Autopilot to areas where it can safely operate.

Together, safety systems and drivers must be ready to intervene at all times.

A Step in the Right Direction

Although the NHTSA has not yet created any new regulations for Tesla, representatives from the NTSB tell AP News that the investigation is “a positive step forward for safety.” Tesla drivers are meant to stay in control while their vehicles are on Autopilot, but the company has come under fire for its misleading marketing and “putting technology on the road that will be foreseeably misused in a way that is leading to crashes, injuries, and deaths.”

The NHTSA’s investigation is limited to crashes involving first responder vehicles, but the NTSB insists the Autopilot problem is even bigger. Tesla drivers have been caught drinking and driving and sitting in the back seat of their vehicles while Autopilot is engaged. Meanwhile, Autopilot has not prevented drivers from slipping underneath tractor-trailers or plowing into stopped emergency vehicles.

An Ongoing Problem

Since June 2016, the NHTSA has sent investigative teams to 31 crashes involving driver assist systems. Tesla Autopilot was involved in 25 of those crashes, which involved 10 deaths.

Tesla has not responded to a request for comment since the NHTSA announced its investigation but has historically emphasized the importance of driver attention – even when Autopilot is engaged. Nevertheless, the company does little to make sure drivers are paying attention, and its steering wheel pressure detection tool is easy to fool.

In its investigation, the NHTSA will assess how Tesla monitors, assists, and enforces the driver’s engagement during Autopilot operation. If the agency is unsatisfied with its assessment, the investigation could result in a recall or another enforcement action against Tesla.

The NHTSA also took the opportunity to remind the public that “no commercially available motor vehicles today are capable of driving themselves.” When you are behind the wheel, you must be in control – always – and you will be responsible for the way you operate your vehicle.

You should, however, be able to trust your car’s safety systems to help you, especially when those systems are aggressively advertised by companies like Tesla.

Since June, the NHTSA has been tracking all crashes involving partially automated driver assist systems – and fully autonomous vehicles (which are still at experimental stages).

If you have been involved in a Tesla Autopilot accident, the results of the NHTSA’s investigation may be especially notable, as a recall would be a clear indicator that your vehicle was defective.

Still, you should not wait for the NHTSA to take legal action against Tesla if you or a loved one has been injured by the Autopilot system.

Lauri J. Goldstein & Associates, PLLC can help you evaluate and prepare your case, so you can fight for compensation and hold Tesla accountable.

Call us at (866) 675-4427 or contact us online for 24/7 availability, 70+ years of combined legal experience, and a free consultation.