Tesla recalls autopilot software in 2 million vehicles

December 13, 2023

On Tuesday, December 12, Tesla recalled more than two million vehicles—agreeing to fix its software to ensure that drivers are paying attention to the road when using its Autopilot system, reports The New York Times.

The recall by Tesla—the world’s dominant maker of electric vehicles—was its fourth in less than two years and the most significant to date. It covers nearly all cars the company sells in the United States, including its most popular, the Model Y sport-utility vehicle.

The recall follows an investigation into Autopilot that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began in August 2021 after a series of accidents involving the technology.

Autopilot is designed to steer, brake, and accelerate vehicles on its own when on highways. With its latest recall, Tesla made it clear that it did not agree with agency’s assessment of the system. The regulator said its investigation would continue.

“It’s critical that NHTSA has kept this investigation open to see if the changes actually reduce the risks,” said Matthew Wansley, professor at the Cardozo School of Law in New York who specializes in emerging automotive technologies.

The investigation is the most prominent example of a wider push and pull among government regulators and a wide range of companies developing technologies that enable vehicles to drive on their own in certain situations.

In October, California regulators ordered Cruise, a General Motors subsidiary, to stop its driverless taxi service in San Francisco after a series of traffic mishaps; including one in which a Cruise car dragged a pedestrian 20 feet after a crash. The company has since suspended its operations across the country.

Tesla’s latest Autopilot update will add new, more prominent visual alerts and checks for the Autosteer function that is part of Autopilot. There may be “increased risk of a crash,” the NHTSA said, when Autosteer is engaged and drivers do not “maintain responsibility for vehicle operation.”

Tesla’s latest recall does not end the agency’s investigation, which is well into its third year, according to a letter to Tesla from the Safety Administration.

“Automated technology holds great promise for improving safety but only when it is deployed responsibly,” the agency said in a statement sent to The New York Times. “Today’s action is an example of improving automated systems by prioritizing safety.

Over the course of its investigation, the safety agency said, it has reviewed 956 crashes in which Autopilot was engaged; before focusing on 322 crashes, including frontal collisions and situations where Autopilot may have been accidentally engaged.

Research contact: @nytimes