Tesla software recall could face battle with US regulators

Tesla software recall could face battle with US regulators

DETROIT (NWN) — Tesla has issued a recall that automatically sent out a software update to fix a safety issue in its electric vehicles, apparently facing a conflict with US safety regulators.

But recall documents posted Tuesday on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s website didn’t address another safety issue the agency specified when it demanded that Tesla disclose what safety-related software it carried over the Internet. Why was it not recalling for updates.

The recall covers about 12,000 Teslas with a glitch in “full self-driving” software that could cause cars to stop for no good reason. The company’s paperwork said the problem with automatic emergency braking could increase the risk of other vehicles colliding behind the Tesla.

A public recall allows owners to be sure repairs are made and that the people who buy the car are aware of potential safety problems. It also allows NHTSA to ensure that the recall addresses the safety issue. The agency can fix automakers if they don’t issue recalls quickly enough or if they don’t fix all problems.

The recall covers all four Tesla Models – S, X, 3 and Y. Tesla documents say a software update sent out on October 23 introduced the glitch.

Company documents say Tesla began receiving reports from owners about phantom braking the next day. Within hours, the company says it has canceled further updates or reverted the software to the previous version. This disabled emergency braking on some vehicles.

On October 24, the company discovered the cause of the communication disconnect between the two computer chips. It developed another software update to fix the problem and shipped it on October 25, according to the documents. The company said it voluntarily agreed to the recall on October 26.

The move shows Tesla will now issue a recall when it pushes software updates to fix security issues. It also sets an example for other automakers to do the same.

12, regulators sent Tesla a letter demanding to know why the company had not recalled its vehicles when it sent out a software update to fix a problem with its Autopilot partially automated driving system. The update addressed the detection of emergency vehicles parked on the roads while crews responded to accidents.

NHTSA launched an investigation into Autopilot in August after receiving reports of a dozen accidents in emergency vehicles. The investigation covers 765,000 vehicles, nearly everything Tesla has sold in the US since the start of the 2014 model year. Of the dozen accidents involved in the investigation, 17 people were injured and one died.

Tesla had until Monday to explain why it did not issue a recall for the Autopilot update. As of early Tuesday, NHTSA had not posted any documents detailing Tesla’s response.

The agency said talks are ongoing with Tesla “to ensure that any safety flaw is promptly acknowledged and addressed in accordance with the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act.” The statement did not say whether Tesla responded to agency questions on the Autopilot software update.

Messages were left early Tuesday asking Tesla for comment.

Tesla rolled out a software update in late September aimed at improving the detection of emergency vehicle lights in low light conditions. The safety agency says Tesla is aware that federal law requires automakers to recall if they discover vehicles have safety defects.

Tesla says Autopilot and “full self-driving” are driver-assistance systems and, despite their name, can’t drive themselves. The automaker says drivers will have to be ready to intervene at any time.

Selected Tesla drivers are “beta testing” the “full self-driving” software on public roads. NHTSA has asked the company for information about the test, including a requirement that testers do not disclose the information.


Follow NWN Auto writer Tom Crischer http://twitter.com/tkrisher