Tesla has issued a recall of nearly every vehicle it has produced in the last decade, amounting to over 2 million cars in the U.S., due to safety issues with the Autopilot driver assistance system. Autopilot allows vehicles to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within their lane, but Tesla said it can be used in ways not intended, raising crash risks.
Autopilot to Face Strict Limits After Numerous Crashes
The recall comes amid growing scrutiny of Autopilot after numerous high-profile crashes involving Teslas. As reported by The Washington Post, federal regulators have linked Tesla’s partially automated driving system to crashes where nearly 20 people have died since 2016.
Tesla plans to release an over-the-air software update that will restrict how Autopilot can be used. As per the company, the system will now require drivers to keep their hands on the steering wheel more frequently when engaged and limit its operation on certain roads.
“We’re not saying it’s unsafe to use Autopilot,” said Tesla CEO Elon Musk in a statement. “Just that drivers need to pay better attention and not treat it like a fully autonomous system, which it isn’t.”
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said this constitutes an unreasonable safety risk as too many drivers rely on Autopilot fully without monitoring the road. Over 200 crashes have been reported involving Autopilot misuse.
Timeline of Key Events Leading Up to Recall
Tesla’s Autopilot has long faced scrutiny even as the company touts its benefits. Here is a timeline of notable developments:
- 2016 – First fatal Autopilot crash occurs when a Tesla Model S fails to detect a truck crossing the highway.
- 2018 – Apple engineer Walter Huang dies when his Tesla Model X on Autopilot accelerated into a concrete barrier. Vehicle logs showed no driver input detected.
- 2021 – NHTSA upgrades its probe into Autopilot crashes. Musk claims it makes driving safer overall.
- 2023 – After analyzing almost 100 crashes, the NHTSA pressures Tesla into major Autopilot limitations to improve safety.
“The mounting crashes made this recall inevitable,” remarked Missy Cummings, Duke professor and Autopilot critic. “Tesla can no longer claim Autopilot is merely a driver assistance system when clearly too many customers trust it as self-driving.”
Software Update to Bring Notable Changes
As part of the recall, Tesla Autopilot will face strict usage constraints under an upcoming mandatory software update. Key changes include:
- More frequent nags for steering wheel input, as often as every 30 seconds
- Disabling Autosteer, auto lane-changing and Smart Summon if warnings are ignored
- Limiting AutoSteer only to divided highways with access controls
- Reducing max allowed speed for AutoSteer to 65 mph
Industry reactions were mixed:
“This is a defining moment for regulated autonomy in cars,” said Bryant Walker Smith, a University of South Carolina law professor. “This will set the tone for all future advanced driver assistance systems.”
However, critics argued the move does not address underlying algorithm issues that lead to crashes. “Fundamentally, Tesla needs better software that matches human driver behavior,” said Phil Koopman, an autonomous vehicle expert at Carnegie Mellon University.
What Happens Next? Can the Recall Restore Faith in Autopilot?
Looking ahead, the big question will be whether limiting Autopilot functionality can rebuild consumer and regulator trust around its safety promises.
Tesla maintains the updated system will still provide useful assistance if used properly. But the recall constitutes a blow to the brand and vision of CEO Elon Musk, who has repeatedly promoted Autopilot’s capabilities.
Other automakers may also face closer NHTSA scrutiny over their own driver assistance systems in response. As vehicles grow increasingly automated, striking the right balance between safety and functionality will only grow more complex.
For now, Tesla owners will soon experience a very different version of Autopilot. And the company’s reputation hangs in the balance as it works to demonstrate that self-driving cars can truly live up to their names.
Key Statistics on Tesla Autopilot Recall:
|Number of Vehicles Recalled
|Over 2 million
|Models Y, X, S, 3
|Production Years Impacted
|Oct 2012 – Dec 2023
|Reason for Recall
|Improper Autopilot usage leading to crashes
|Software update to limit Autopilot capabilities
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