Tesla's Autopilot under the NHTSA's microscope

Max McDee, 09 July 2023

At the zenith of its success, Tesla is drawing attention - not just accolades and imitation, but a federal level scrutiny that threatens to impose significant fines. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is demanding a full background check on Tesla's Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems, leaving no stone unturned from design to manufacture.

The NHTSA, through a letter posted on its website, has requested access to the entire journey of Tesla's autonomous driving technologies since their inception. The deadline for compliance? July 19, 2023. In case of non-compliance, Tesla may face daily penalties that could add up to a staggering $131 million. Notably, the agency's probe isn't just limited to the software aspects but extends to hardware components installed in every Tesla car produced between 2014-2023.

Tesla's Autopilot under the NHTSA's microscope

The relationship between Tesla and the NHTSA is far from new or rosy. The Federal Agency had already launched an official investigation into Tesla's technology in 2021 after 30 crashes resulted in 10 fatalities. With a considerable rise in these figures, the urgency for a thorough investigation has understandably escalated.

Earlier this year, the NHTSA compelled Tesla to recall over 300,000 cars equipped with Full Self-Driving Beta. Though Tesla promptly addressed the issues through an over-the-air update, the move raised further questions about the safety and reliability of Tesla's autonomous systems.

Tesla's Autopilot under the NHTSA's microscope

While the NHTSA's exact objectives remain under wraps, an educated guess suggests that it seeks to delve into the effectiveness of Tesla's alerts to drivers about potential risks and the efficiency of the camera-only Tesla Vision compared to its more complex systems.

At the same time, Tesla's progress towards a more advanced autonomous driving system, seemingly headed towards a Level 3 or higher capability, is an intriguing puzzle piece. A recent discovery of a "God Mode" in Tesla's system hints at a more autonomous future. And this is happening amidst a golden period for Tesla, where it not only holds the title of the world's most valuable car company but also celebrated the Model Y's triumph as the world's best-selling car.

Tesla's Autopilot under the NHTSA's microscope

But the journey is far from smooth, especially with governmental agencies expressing differing viewpoints on Tesla. While NHTSA is pursuing investigations against Tesla, some US states are embracing Tesla's North America Charging Standard (NACS) connector. The Department of Transport and Department of Energy is set to fund a $2.5 billion expansion of the electric charging network, with most of the money, due to NACS support, now heading to Tesla to support Supercharger network expansion.

The ball is now in Tesla's court as the world watches whether the company will succumb to the Federal Agency's scrutiny. If it does, it's not just a win for the NHTSA but a potential revelation of the hidden sides of the Autopilot saga, which could have far-reaching implications for the whole autonomous driving landscape.



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