Thanks to a petition by a concerned citizen, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) is looking into whether Tesla’s electric vehicles can accelerate suddenly without the driver’s input. This could easily cause crashes.
According to the Associated Press, agency documents indicate that 127 owners have complained about sudden acceleration of their Tesla vehicles, including the Model 3, the Model S and the Model X. Of those 127 complaints, 110 involved crashes and 52 involved injuries. The vehicles affected come from the model years 2013 through 2019.
NHTSA’s investigations office will look at the evidence included in the petition and determine if a formal probe should be opened.
“I am concerned that these complaints reflect a systemic defect that has not been investigated by NHTSA,” reads the petition. “I am also concerned that these potential defects represent risk to the safety of Tesla drivers, their passengers, and the public.”
A former head of safety defect investigations for NHTSA told the AP that this is an unusually high number of complaints for a citizen petition and that it warrants further investigation.
Indeed, the petitioner analyzed NHTSA data and found that the rate of unintended acceleration complaints related to Teslas was much higher than for other brands.
The petitioner also noted that Tesla has been refusing to share data with vehicle owners who complain of unintended acceleration. “It is clear that Tesla has the data and is aware of the problem,” he writes. Yet despite the rather high number of complaints, Tesla has not issued a recall.
Software seems to glitch, especially when the car is being parked
According to the petition, many Tesla owners have complained that their vehicles suddenly accelerated during the parking process. For example, in May 2013, a California owner of a Tesla Model S sedan complained that his car suddenly accelerated on its own when he was pulling into a parking spot. It went over the curb and parking block and struck a light post, which inflated the air bags. Luckily, no one was injured.
Any glitch might be related to the Autopilot system
NHTSA is already investigating several incidents in which Tesla’s driver assistance program, the Autopilot, apparently failed to notice oncoming obstacles, including both trucks and pedestrians. The Autopilot has the power to change lanes, accelerate and brake on its own.
Tesla has made clear that the Autopilot, despite its name, is not intended to replace the driver. Drivers should remain vigilant and ready to spring into action should the Autopilot fail.