NHTSA has launched at least 13 Tesla defect investigations since 2013, including seven that either resulted in safety recall actions or that remain open. NHTSA declined to discuss the probes.
Several investigations are related to Tesla’s Autopilot technology. The investigation Koopman referenced “was motivated by an accumulation of crashes in which Tesla vehicles, operating with Autopilot engaged, struck stationary in-road or roadside first responder vehicles tending to pre-existing collision scenes,” said NHTSA in a summary of the investigation. The probe resulted in a recall of more than 130,000 vehicles in 2021.
A February 2022 investigation that remains open is examining “unexpected brake activation.” NHTSA said prior to opening the complaint, it had received 354 complaints over nine months, with consumers describing that “rapid deceleration can occur without warning, at random, and often repeatedly in a single drive cycle.”
Earlier this month, Tesla recalled 363,000 vehicles equipped with or pending installation of its Full Self-Driving beta software because of an increased risk of crash. The recall covers certain 2016-23 Model S and Model X electric vehicles as well as certain 2017-23 Model 3 and 2020-23 Model Y vehicles.
NHTSA has also conducted nearly 40 special crash investigations involving Teslas, according to agency data.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board issued nine safety recommendations in 2020 after a fatal crash two years prior in Mountain View, Calif.
The NTSB blamed Tesla’s Autopilot feature, the driver’s “overreliance” on Autopilot and the driver’s distraction for the crash, adding that the Tesla did not provide an alert, and automatic braking did not engage before the collision.
The agency also determined that a 2019 crash in Florida was probably caused by “the operational design of Tesla’s partial automation system, which permitted disengagement by the driver” and the “company’s failure to limit the use of the system to the conditions for which it was designed,” among other factors.
Not all of the NTSB’s investigations have found Tesla’s technology culpable for accidents. The NTSB completed an investigation into a fatal Tesla crash in Spring, Texas, in 2021, determining that the Autopilot feature did not factor in the crash.
Finally, Tesla acknowledged in a 2023 Securities and Exchange Commission filing that “the company has received requests from the Department of Justice for documents related to Tesla’s Autopilot and [Full self-Driving] features.” The nature of the documents is not clear, but the DOJ has examined Tesla’s misstatements in the past.