Tesla Takes Action To Remedy Its Autopilot Accident Issues With Emergency Vehicles

tesla and emergency vehicle accident
Tesla is facing immense heat over accidents involving its electric vehicles slamming into emergency vehicles responding to incidents. The NHTSA said during its preliminary findings that, "Most incidents took place after dark and the crash scenes encountered included scene control measures such as first responder vehicle lights, flares, an illuminated arrow board, and road cones. The involved subject vehicles were all confirmed to have been engaged in either Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control during the approach to the crashes."

Given the high-profile federal investigation, Tesla is finally taking action to improve Autopilot's camera systems to detect the flashing lights of emergency vehicles to help reduce (if not eliminate) future accidents. The following changes were noticed in an update to the online user manual for the Model 3 and Model Y by Twitter user @Analytic_ETH:

If Model 3/Model Y detects lights from an emergency vehicle when using Autosteer at night on a high-speed road, the driving speed is automatically reduced and the touchscreen displays a message informing you of the slowdown. You will also hear a chime and see a reminder to keep your hands on the steering wheel. When the light detections pass by or cease to appear, Autopilot resumes your cruising speed. Alternatively, you may tap the accelerator to resume your cruising speed.

So, while Autopilot is now more competent regarding detecting emergency vehicles, this capability is only implemented "at night." That's a rather curious distinction, so should we assume that Autopilot still has a propensity for crashing into stopped ambulances, firetrucks, and police cars during the day? While most of the crashes did occur at night, there have been instances where Teslas on Autopilot goofed in broad daylight (see the leading image above).

The updated manual (2021.24.12) also states:

Never depend on Autopilot features to determine the presence of emergency vehicles. Model 3/Model Y may not detect lights from emergency vehicles in all situations. Keep your eyes on your driving path and always be prepared to take immediate action.

The NHTSA isn't the only federal agency sniffing around in the aftermath of Autopilot- and Full Self Driving-related accidents. NTSB head Jennifer Homendy blasted the company over the weekend, saying that Tesla's promotion of Full Self Driving is "misleading and irresponsible." Homendy went on to add, "Basic safety issues have to be addressed before they're then expanding it to other city streets and other areas." 

This article's headline has been updated for a more balanced reporting perspective.

Hero image courtesy Culver City Firefighters