Is Tesla’s new Autopilot software all it is cracked up to be? The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has learned (after many social media posts) that several Teslas with the “Smart Summon” feature have been in accidents. The NHTSA is currently investigating the claims and is in communication with Tesla.
Tesla’s latest software update includes the Smart Summon feature. The feature is available to customers who paid an extra $6,000 for the “Full Self Driving” package. Users can “summon” their vehicle with a phone app as long as it is within 200 feet of their location and in their line of site. The vehicles will then navigate to the user based on the user’s GPS location. The vehicle should also reportedly “maneuver around or stop for objects and notify you when detected.” The feature is meant to be used in driveways and private parking garages.
Unfortunately the Smart Summon feature does not always function as it is intended. David F. Guajardo posted a video of his Tesla being hit by a Lexus backing out of a parking space. The Tesla technically had the right away, but the accident likely could have been avoided if Guajardo had been behind the wheel. Guajardo has filed an insurance claim and notes that he is interested to see who will be “responsible” for the accident.
There have also been several videos of near misses. Tesla owner Roddie Hasan posted a video on Twitter of his vehicle starting to cross a driveway. His Tesla is almost hit by an SUV. Hasan was thankfully able to avoid the accident by lifting his finger from the button within the app. The stop button made his Tesla come to a halt.
Over 550,000 Tesla Smart Summon uses in first few days!— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) October 2, 2019
The Tesla website states that owners “are still responsible for your car and must monitor it and its surroundings at all times and be within your line of sight because it may not detect all obstacles. Be especially careful around quick moving people, bicycles and cars". However, these accidents are rather concerning. The NHTSA stated that it will “will not hesitate to act if it finds evidence of a safety-related defect.”
Tesla has not made any statement about the accidents and near misses. Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk did post on Twitter that there have been 550,000 Tesla Smart Summons within the first few days of its release. He also stated in the comments section of his Tweet that the feature would soon be available in other countries like Canada.
Tesla’s Smart Summon opens up a Pandora’s box of legal issues. Who is responsible in a car accident if no one is in the Tesla? Would the Tesla owner be responsible no matter what? What sort of legal precedent will be created in response to this new feature? These are questions that will need to be answered soon, especially since national safety regulations have little to say about automated features.