Tesla Autopilot Faces Federal Probe After Multiple EVs Blindly Crash Into Emergency Vehicles

tesla model 3 performance hero
With a name like Autopilot, you'd expect Tesla vehicles would be able to handle routine driving maneuvers while under computer control. However, as many have witnessed -- sometimes with deadly results -- Autopilot is still years away from being "trusted" as a fully competent replacement for a human driver.

Autopilot's failings have been made abundantly clear by a federal investigation that was opened this week by the National Highway and Transportation Administration (NHTSA) into accidents involving Teslas and emergency vehicles. The NHTSA says that it will probe Tesla vehicles sold between 2014 and 2021 (including the Model S, Model X, Model 3, and Model Y) after examining 11 incidents in which vehicles struck stationary emergency vehicles.

tesla model 3 interior

According to the preliminary report, most of the accidents occurred after dark, although that shouldn't necessarily have caused a performance issue for Autopilot. More importantly, these accidents involved Tesla vehicles ramming into the back of emergency vehicles, even though these vehicles in most cases had emergency lights active along with lit flares or road cones places behind and around the vehicle for added visibility.

In all of the incidents detailed [PDF], Autopilot or Traffic-Aware Cruise Control was active on the braindead Teslas.

tesla autosteer

"The investigation will assess the technologies and methods used to monitor, assist, and enforce the driver's engagement with the dynamic driving task during Autopilot operation," writes the NHTSA. "The investigation will additionally assess the OEDR by vehicles when engaged in Autopilot mode, and ODD in which the Autopilot mode is functional."

There is plenty of blame to go around with these incidents, including how the Autopilot system is programmed to respond to stationary objects that might be – for a good reason – stopped in an active lane of traffic or jutting out into traffic from the shoulder of the road. A human driver would easily recognize the visual cues of an emergency vehicle and take the appropriate action.

However, in these incidents that the NHTSA is investigating, not only was there a breakdown at the software/hardware level with Autopilot, but the driver was also oblivious to their surroundings and wasn't paying enough attention to take control of the wheel to prevent an avoidable accident.