The Tesla Autopilot safety probe is about to end, and NHTSA is hinting at forcing improvements on the driver monitoring side.

Tesla has been under federal investigation about its Autopilot potentially having a problem with crashes with emergency vehicles on the side of the road.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) first opened an investigation into Tesla Autopilot over its possible involvement in 11 crashes with emergency and first responder vehicles back in 2021. It has since ramped up the investigation to include 16 crashes.

Acting NHTSA Administrator Ann Carlson told Reuters that a resolution to the probe is coming “relatively soon.”

Carlson added:

It’s really important that drivers pay attention. It’s also really important that driver monitoring systems take into account that humans over-trust technology.

Tesla has often been criticized for its driver monitoring system, which used to be limited to a torque sensor on the steering wheel.

The automaker would tell drivers to “keep their hands on the steering wheel,” but it wouldn’t even be able to detect whether or not the driver had their hands on the wheel because it could only detect when torque was applied.

Tesla changed the warning to “apply torque on the steering wheel” to be more precise.

More recently, Tesla’s driver monitoring system has greatly improved by using the driver-facing camera to detect when drivers are not paying attention to the road.

Electrek’s Take

I think this will be another “big Tesla recall” that will be announced, even though the “fix” will already be pushed to the entire fleet by the time it’s announced.

It’s true that Tesla used to be lacking in the driver monitoring department, but it introduced those new camera-based monitoring features in FSD Beta, and now it seems to be expanding them to Autopilot.

Speaking for myself, they are working pretty well. Whenever I get distracted, I quickly get an alert.

I don’t see how Tesla can do better than this right now. Ultimately, with the current system, it is still the driver’s responsibility to pay attention at all times. Tesla’s requirement is only to build systems to help make sure that drivers are paying attention.

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MuskWire TLDR:

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is nearing the end of its investigation into Tesla Autopilot’s safety, specifically regarding its potential involvement in crashes with emergency vehicles. The investigation initially focused on 11 crashes, but has since expanded to include 16 crashes. Acting NHTSA Administrator Ann Carlson emphasized the importance of driver attention and the need for driver monitoring systems to account for human over-reliance on technology. Tesla has faced criticism for its previous driver monitoring system, which only relied on a torque sensor on the steering wheel and was unable to detect whether the driver had their hands on the wheel. The company has since improved its monitoring system by utilizing a driver-facing camera to detect inattentiveness. Despite these improvements, there may still be a recall issued, although the necessary fixes would likely already be implemented across Tesla’s fleet. Ultimately, Tesla’s responsibility is to ensure that drivers remain attentive, while it is the driver’s responsibility to pay attention at all times.