After recently confirming that it was reviewing a large number of complaints, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has launched a safety probe into some Tesla vehicles, following hundreds of cases of vehicles activating their emergency braking systems at highway speeds. This issue has previously been dubbed as "phantom braking" by the online Tesla community.
A filing by NHTSA's Office of Defects Investigation (ODI) said that over the last nine months, the department has received 354 complaints of unexpected braking occurring whilst Tesla's Autopilot driver assistance system is activated. Around 416,000 vehicles are at the center of the probe, all of which are 2021 and 2022 Model 3s and Ys.
In 2021, Tesla removed the forward-facing radar from Model 3 and Y vehicles being sold in the United States and committed to using a camera-only form of its Autopilot system which it calls "Tesla Vision." The vehicles utilizing Tesla Vision are also the same ones involved in the investigation, though it's not clear if a link has been established between the removal of forward-facing radar and an increase in unexpected braking.
Phantom braking isn't a new complaint from Tesla drivers. Tesla even recalled its Full Self-Driving Beta software in Nov. 2021 after a similar braking problem became widespread. However, this particular investigation may have stemmed from recent pressure from lawmakers over Tesla's propensity to perform rolling stops coupled with public grievances over phantom braking.
Tesla currently has two other open investigations on its shoulders. One of which is over video games that could be played while driving (Tesla subsequently removed this feature with an over-the-air update), and another stemming from a more serious issue of vehicles on Autopilot crashing into emergency vehicles.
Tesla has seemingly been under the microscope of federal regulators recently, including the NHTSA. Just last week the Texas-based automaker announced its 11th recall in the span of just four months, the removal of a feature that allows owners to play sounds from an external speaker while driving (like fart sounds or the Mission Impossible theme song). CEO Elon Musk called the federal agency the "fun police" following the recall.
It's not clear what will come of the investigation, as it's still in the preliminary phase. Likely, the agency will request data from Tesla before either closing the investigation or moving it on to the next phase of a recall request, should a safety problem be found.
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