Tesla has a phantom braking problem and it’s only getting worse
There has been an increase in complaints of Teslas suddenly braking without warning.
Imagine driving down a long stretch of a busy highway at 65 miles per hour. Cars are everywhere. Some are behind you; others are in the lane beside you. Then, all of a sudden, your car suddenly slams its brakes. Known as phantom braking, it’s becoming a growing issue with Tesla vehicles.
Phantom braking only occurs when the car’s Autopilot feature is enabled. It’s been well-documented, and you can find evidence of it in Tesla forums, YouTube videos, and social media platforms like Twitter. Here’s a video that shows some examples of phantom braking in action.
To make matters worse, the number of complaints is on the rise. According to a Washington Post report, the NHTSA received 107 phantom braking complaints in the past three months, up from 34 in the previous 22 months.
So why, suddenly, is there a surge of new complaints? There are a lot of factors at play, but the main culprit is related to the car’s software. Additionally, the company stopped using radar sensors in its vehicles in favor of a camera-based Autopilot system called Tesla Vision.
So instead of tracking the vehicle’s surroundings with radar, newer Teslas rely solely on cameras. The company says the cameras “provide 360 degrees of visibility around the car at up to 250 meters of range.” Additionally, 12 ultrasonic sensors in the vehicle detect objects around it.
So when Tesla flipped the switch to Tesla Vision, a bulk of the phantom braking complaints started rolling in. The common theme of most of these complaints seems to revolve around Tesla vehicles being overly sensitive to trucks in the opposite lane. The video I shared above helps support this theory.
Full disclosure: I own a Tesla Model Y, and phantom braking had never been an issue for me. But when I recently updated to the company’s Full Self-Driving beta, the problems started popping up, particularly when driving past a truck in the opposite lane. It’s happened a few times already, and it’s pretty alarming.
Speaking to the Washington Post, Tesla owner Ben Morris explains an instance when phantom braking freaked him out, and rightfully so. From the Post report:
“We primarily drove the car on two-lane highways, which is where the issues would show themselves consistently,” he said in an email. “Although my 2017 Model X has phantom braked before, it is very rare, the vision-based system released May 2021 is night and day. We were seeing this behavior every day.”
He recalled an instance when his wife was driving at highway speeds of 55 to 60 mph and “it slammed on the brakes hard, sending our children’s booster seats slamming into the front seats.” Thankfully, he said, the children weren’t in the car.
Anyway, the NHTSA is actively investigating these claims and said it is “aware of complaints received about forward collision avoidance and is reviewing them through [their] risk-based evaluation process.” The NHTSA goes on to say that if data supports the possibility of a risk, it will “act immediately.”
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