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Teslas keep crashing into emergency vehicles and now the U.S. government is investigating

It comes after a series of collisions with parked emergency vehicles

tesla model 3 steering wheel
Image: Unsplash

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is formally investigating Tesla’s Autopilot system. The reason? Well, they keep crashing into parked emergency vehicles while they’re attending to other emergencies on the side of the road.

The scale of the investigation is staggering, and almost every vehicle Tesla has sold since the start of 2014 is affected. That’s around 765,000 vehicles that could be subject to recalls or further enforcement from the government. This is the largest investigation into Tesla to date, even larger than the half a million vehicles that were investigated in 2020 for “sudden unexpected acceleration” issues.

As drivers, we all know we’re supposed to give emergency vehicles responding to an incident enough space to work. That used to be a courtesy, but now all 50 states have “Move Over” laws, which means drivers should move over one lane from any parked emergency vehicle if it’s safe to do so or slow down if they can’t change lanes.

It appears Tesla’s Autopilot system is unaware of this, with NHTSA looking at “11 crashes since 2018 in which Teslas on Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control have hit vehicles at scenes where first responders have used flashing lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board or cones warning of hazards.” Those crashes resulted in 17 injured people, with one dying as a result of the crash.

Why hasn’t Tesla figured this problem out? Well, there’s a reason for that. Researchers suggest that self-driving systems are trained to ignore stationary objects, this way they’re not all confused when they see things like buildings and advertisements found on the side of the road.

The NHTSA will be taking a long hard look at Tesla’s methods of ensuring driver engagement when Autopilot is on, and also “object and event detection by the system” and where it is allowed to operate. Will this end up with restrictions on Tesla’s Full Self-Driving system? It’s too early to say, but the agency has been hesitant to regulate any autonomous driving systems as it fears it will stifle innovation in the field.

Two months ago, the NHTSA made it a requirement for automakers to report any crashes involving self-driving systems.

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