Why does Tesla refuse to come to a halt? Tesla has issued two significant recalls this week owing to software issues with its vehicles. In one of the recalls, Tesla was forced to roll back self-driving technology that caused the company’s cars to break the law. Federal inspectors have challenged Elon Musk’s claim that “there were no safety issues.”. Government pressure, on the other hand, appears unlikely to change Tesla’s daring strategy.
Why does Tesla refuse to come to a halt?
Indeed, the company’s sudden withdrawal of these functionalities is just the latest example of it pushing potentially hazardous software. This pattern is particularly concerning because the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), which will oversee the recalls, will be able to act only after the Tesla update has been sent to drivers. Tesla normally installs these upgrades while its vehicles are linked to the internet, so they don’t come at a high cost to the company. Tesla is now free to introduce and test new features with real-world drivers — at least until the government intervenes or Tesla detects difficulties on its own.
The first Tesla recall was issued this week, and it was for a feature that allowed users to program their Teslas to slow down but not completely stop at all-way crossings with stop signs under very specific conditions. The company first released the “rolling stop” feature in October 2020 as part of an upgrade to its Full Self-Driving beta software. This advanced version of Tesla’s Autopilot driver-assistance system is notoriously divisive, and it’s only available to a select group of Tesla owners who spend $12,000 for the upgrade. Despite its name, the Full Self-Driving software does not turn Teslas into fully autonomous vehicles, but it does give them access to semi-autonomous features. The current rolling stop feature recall affects all 53,822 Teslas that have been updated to Full Self-Driving.
In truth, determining how harmful Tesla’s “rolling stop” feature was is challenging. There were no warranty claims or injuries, and the equipment only worked at extremely slow speeds. The speed, according to Elon Musk, was 2 mph, but official NHTSA statistics show 5.6 mph. Regardless, no matter how slowly you’re driving, rolling through stop signs is unlawful in most places. “Failing to stop at a stop sign may enhance the risk of a crash,” the NHTSA wrote in a letter to Tesla. To handle the recall, Tesla released a software upgrade.
On Thursday, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued the second Tesla recall, stating that over 817,000 Teslas may have a seat belt issue. According to the regulator, these vehicles do not produce an audible chime in some cases when passengers fail to wear their seatbelts, a flaw Tesla maintains will be fixed with a software update.
These are only the two most recent Tesla safety software updates. The automaker has issued nine recalls in the last three months, and government safety investigators fear this is becoming more regular. Simultaneously, several of the problems that the software updates are supposed to fix seem to be persisting, if not getting worse.
Tesla issued a recall — as well as a software update — last autumn in response to concerns that vehicles equipped with Autopilot would brake without warning when its computers detected threats that didn’t exist. According to a recent Washington Post piece, the “phantom braking” problem appeared to worsen in the months following the recall, possibly due to Tesla’s decision to replace radar-based sensors with cameras on some vehicle models. Federal officials are meeting with the company again to explore how to address the situation.
“For years, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has been playing a cat and mouse game with Tesla,” Michael Brooks, acting director of the Center for Auto Safety, stated. “Right now, the NHTSA appears to be busier than usual.
Tesla, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to be slowing down. Automobile recalls are no longer as successful as they previously were. Previously, car owners had to take their recalled vehicles to a dealer or auto shop for repair or receive a replacement or a refund. However, automakers have had the option of correcting some faults with an over-the-air software update in recent years, as Tesla has done with all of the aforementioned recalls. These recalls are comparable to app updates in that they may be addressed more easily and swiftly by car owners. Nonetheless, they are quite affordable to deploy for automakers. Some may argue that recalls are little more than a regulatory slap on the wrist if they just result in software updates.
Tesla looks to be using software updates to avoid recalls. This summer, the company added a feature called Passenger Play, which allowed passengers to play video games on Tesla’s touchscreens while the cars were in motion. After the NHTSA launched an inquiry into the feature, Tesla released a software update in December that disabled Passenger Play while the car was in motion. The government started a formal inquiry last August into 11 crashes involving Tesla vehicles equipped with Autopilot or Traffic-Aware Cruise Control colliding with stopped emergency vehicles with flashing lights, and Tesla provided a software update a few weeks later. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration questioned Tesla in October about why it didn’t send a formal recall notice, suggesting the upgrade was a “stealth recall.”
Aside from formal recalls, regulators now have few tools at their disposal. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) may amend its Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards, but this is a lengthy process, which could explain why standards haven’t kept up with new car technologies. Although the National Transportation Safety Board’s mission is generally limited to conducting crash investigations and making recommendations, it can also focus on automotive safety. Despite the fact that states are gradually establishing their own laws, there is still no national agreement on how to deal with Teslas.
As a result, some believe it is past time for the government to take action. Reps. Bobby Rush (D-IL) and Larry Bucshon (R-IN) introduced the Crash Avoidance System Evaluation Act in May, which would compel the Department of Transportation to evaluate how well car crash avoidance technology like Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving actually works. Senators Ed Markey (D-MA) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) encouraged the Federal Trade Commission to investigate Tesla for false and misleading advertising of semi-autonomous features in August. Along with Sen. Amy Klobuchar, they’ve sponsored the Stay Aware for Everyone Act, which would require the Department of Transportation to evaluate driving assistance technologies and carmakers to install driver-monitoring features (D-MN).
“These fresh revelations about Tesla’s Autopilot and Full Self-Driving systems are precisely why Blumenthal and Markey have long stated their concerns about this faulty technology,” they told Recode.
. “While automated driving and driver aid technologies have the potential to increase safety, they must be implemented with strong safeguards to ensure that our vehicles follow the rules of the road and that our drivers are fully engaged.”
Because there isn’t a consensus on how semi-autonomous vehicles should be controlled, there aren’t any effective safeguards in place. Who is to blame when a software-assisted vehicle makes a dangerous decision: the driver or the car manufacturer? Should self-driving and semi-autonomous vehicles be built to follow the letter of the law or to drive the way most people do? Tesla is profiting from the ambiguity generated by authorities’ inability to provide comprehensive answers to these queries.
This occurs at a moment when Tesla’s commitment to safety should be able to shine. In the first nine months of last year, the number of road fatalities in the United States grew at the fastest rate since the Transportation Department began tracking them in 1975. Tesla’s AI-powered vehicles, Musk claims, save lives and could be a solution to the country’s growing highway safety challenges. However, the company’s focus on introducing items that intentionally undermine rather than promote safety appears to be undermining this larger goal.