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Automatic safety regulator asks Tesla about driver assistance software

U.S. auto safety regulator steps up control of Tesla Inc.,

TSLA 0.95%

fearing that a lack of transparency related to the company’s advanced driver assistance functions could compromise safety oversight.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, in a letter released Wednesday, asked the electric car maker why it had not issued a formal recall as part of a recent update to its advanced road assistance system. driving known as autopilot.

Tesla’s update, released on at least some vehicles in late September, aimed to improve the ability of vehicles running on autopilot to detect flashing hazard lights, the agency said. Tesla made the change about a month after NHTSA launched an autopilot investigation following a series of crashes involving Teslas and one or more parked emergency vehicles. Autopilot is designed to make highway driving easier and to adjust a car’s speed to that of other vehicles on the road.

Any manufacturer that releases a software update designed to mitigate a defect that “poses an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety” is required to file a recall notice with the agency, the NHTSA said. These documents are due within five working days of the date on which a company became aware or should have known of the defect.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The company said driving with the autopilot on is safer than driving without.

In a separate letter also made public on Wednesday, the auto safety regulator criticized Tesla’s efforts to limit public debate over a driver assistance tool intended to help drivers navigate cities. Tesla had tested the feature with a small group of employees and customers and recently started expanding access to people who purchased a package Tesla calls “Full Self-Driving Capability.” Fully autonomous driving does not make cars self-sufficient.

“Because NHTSA relies on consumer reports as an important source of information to assess potential security flaws, any agreement that might prevent or deter participants in the Early Access Beta program from reporting safety concerns at NHTSA is unacceptable, ”the agency said.

Tesla chief executive Elon Musk told a conference last month that nondisclosure agreements might not be necessary.

NHTSA has requested copies of all nondisclosure agreements signed by people who have been given early access to Tesla’s city driving function. Those documents, along with Tesla’s response to questions related to its emergency light detection update, are due on November 1, NHTSA said.

Tesla has been criticized by other security officials. Jennifer Homendy, who heads the National Transportation Safety Board, told the Wall Street Journal last month that Tesla shouldn’t roll out its city driving tool until it addresses what the agency sees as safety gaps in the technology. of the company. The NTSB investigates accidents but has no regulatory authority.

Tesla will move its headquarters to Austin, Texas, CEO Elon Musk said, comparing the current overcrowded operations at the Fremont, Calif., Plant to “Spam in a Box.” He said the electric vehicle maker will continue to expand in California. Photo: Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

Write to Rebecca Elliott at

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Appeared in the October 14, 2021 print edition under the title “Auto-Safety Regulator Questions Tesla”.