US government investigates Tesla autopilot crashes

Washington, D.C. – August 19, 2021 – A United States auto safety regulator has opened an investigation into Tesla’s (NASDAQ:TSLA) autopilot feature over concerns that it may not stop cars from crashing into parked emergency vehicles. Collisions with civilian vehicles represent one of the leading causes of death for first responders and this investigation was opened on the back of 17 injuries and one death.

The investigation could implicate 765,000 vehicles and covers the majority of Tesla models that have been made in the U.S., including:

  • 2017 – 2021 Model 3 sedans
  • 2014 – 2021 Model S sedans
  • 2015 – 2021 Model X SUVs
  • 2019 – 2021 Model Y compact SUVs


On August 13, the regulator, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), opened an investigation based on 11 reports of Tesla cars crashing into first responders’ vehicles parked at emergency scenes on the road.  

All the Teslas involved were using autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control (TACC) features when they crashed and most crashes occurred at night.

The Teslas, which use eight cameras and 12 ultrasonic sensors to monitor the road, did not stop driving, despite many visual signs of an emergency scene, including cones, flares and flashing lights on emergency vehicles. At least in one case, the car only detected the emergency vehicle just 0.49 seconds before it made impact.

Scope of the investigation

The investigation will look into Tesla autopilot’s ability to respond to these scenes on the road and will also focus on how Tesla vehicles make sure that drivers are actually paying attention when autopilot is on. 

Tesla’s autopilot is not the same as a self-driving car and drivers are still supposed to watch the road while driving. Tesla’s manual instructs owners to keep their hands on the wheel while autopilot is on. However, Tesla’s autopilot only requires drivers to occasionally tap the steering wheel to keep the autopilot running.

At the same time, some autopilot systems, such as GM’s super cruise, use infrared cameras to monitor drivers’ eyes to make sure they are still watching the road.

Safety tips

If you see an emergency vehicle, please slow down and move over to the right so that the vehicle can respond to the incident as soon as possible. Do not try to beat an ambulance or a police car at a light and keep your eyes on the road while driving. Keep in mind that your car is likely soundproof and you may only have a couple seconds to react to an emergency vehicle before it is too late. Do not engage in conversations with your passengers and try to avoid eating and drinking while driving.

Investigation process

The safety agency’s investigation is currently in a preliminary stage that usually lasts under four months. If evaluators find a safety defect, the agency will escalate the investigation to decide whether to mandate a recall. This typically takes up to a year to complete.

Tesla recalls in 2021

Earlier this summer, Tesla recalled Model Y and Model 3 cars first due to potential loss of tire pressure and then because of faulty seatbelts. In February, the manufacturer issued a Tesla Model S recall over impending loss of essential safety features due to a memory issue. In addition to Model S vehicles, this recall also included Model X crossovers.

Will your vehicle be part of a recall?

Around 765,000 cars could be involved in a future Tesla recall. To see if yours is one of them, bookmark MotorSafety’s free vehicle lookup tool and check back for open recalls in the future.

Rebecca RandUS government investigates Tesla autopilot crashes

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