The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration published a notice Thursday announcing the expansion into its ongoing investigation regarding crashes involving Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) electric vehicles and stopped emergency vehicles.
What Happened: The NHTSA probe began last August after 11 incidents that found Tesla drivers did not take evasive action in the seconds prior to their collisions; the crashes resulted in an accumulative total of one fatality and 15 injuries.
In expanding its probe, the NHTSA said it would also upgrade its earlier investigation to an engineering analysis and also broaden its study of Tesla’s Autopilot feature in other crashes not involving emergency vehicles.
“The investigation opening was motivated by an accumulation of crashes in which Tesla vehicles, operating with Autopilot engaged, struck stationary in-road or roadside first responder vehicles tending to pre-existing collision scenes,” the agency stated.
“Upon opening the investigation, NHTSA indicated that the [preliminary examination] would also evaluate additional similar circumstance crashes of Tesla vehicles operating with Autopilot engaged, as well as assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver’s engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation.”
What Happens Next: The investigation could determine whether the crashes were the result of human error, with the drivers mistakenly believing that Autopilot is a self-driving feature that functions without their attention, or if there is a technological problem involving such functions as cruise control and lane maintenance. However, one scenario will not cancel out the other, according to the agency.
“A driver’s use or misuse of vehicle components, or operation of a vehicle in an unintended manner does not necessarily preclude a system defect,” the NHTSA said. “This is particularly the case if the driver behavior in question is foreseeable in light of the system’s design or operation.”
U.S. automobile manufacturers are required to recall vehicles when safety defects are confirmed. Approximately 830,000 Tesla vehicles — the Models S, X, 3, and Y made between 2014 and 2021 — could be impacted if the NHTSA requires a recall.
Neither Tesla nor its CEO, Elon Musk, commented on the NHTSA notice.
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