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DETROIT (AP) — Tesla is recalling nearly all vehicles sold in the U.S., more than 2 million, to update software and fix a defective system that’s supposed to ensure drivers are paying attention when using Autopilot.

Documents posted Wednesday by U.S. safety regulators say the update will increase warnings and alerts to drivers and even limit the areas where basic versions of Autopilot can operate.

The recall comes after a two-year investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration into a series of crashes that happened while the Autopilot partially automated driving system was in use. Some were deadly.

The agency says its investigation found Autopilot’s method of making sure that drivers are paying attention can be inadequate and can lead to “foreseeable misuse of the system.”
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The added controls and alerts will “further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility,” the documents said.

But safety experts said while the recall is a good step, it still makes the driver responsible and doesn’t fix the underlying problem that Tesla’s automated systems have trouble spotting and stopping for obstacles in their path.

The recall covers models Y, S, 3 and X produced between Oct. 5, 2012, and Dec. 7 of this year. The update was to be sent to certain affected vehicles on Tuesday, with the rest getting it later.

Shares of Tesla slid more than 3% Wednesday.

Autopilot includes features called Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control, with Autosteer intended for use on limited access freeways when it’s not operating with a more sophisticated feature called Autosteer on City Streets.

The software update will limit where Autosteer can be used. “If the driver attempts to engage Autosteer when conditions are not met for engagement, the feature will alert the driver it is unavailable through visual and audible alerts, and Autosteer will not engage,” the recall documents said.

Depending on a Tesla’s hardware, the added controls include “increasing prominence” of visual alerts, simplifying how Autosteer is turned on and off, and additional checks on whether Autosteer is being used outside of controlled access roads and when approaching traffic control devices. A driver could be suspended from using Autosteer if they repeatedly fail “to demonstrate continuous and sustained driving responsibility,” the documents say.

According to recall documents, agency investigators met with Tesla starting in October to explain “tentative conclusions” about the fixing the monitoring system. Tesla did not concur with NHTSA’s analysis but agreed to the recall on Dec. 5 in an effort to resolve the investigation.

Auto safety advocates for years have been calling for stronger regulation of the driver monitoring system, which mainly detects whether a driver’s hands are on the steering wheel. They have called for cameras to make sure a driver is paying attention, which are used by other automakers with similar systems.

Philip Koopman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University who studies autonomous vehicle safety, called the software update a compromise that doesn’t address a lack of night vision cameras to watch drivers’ eyes, as well as Teslas failing to spot and stop for obstacles.

“The compromise is disappointing because it does not fix the problem that the older cars do not have adequate hardware for driver monitoring,” Koopman said.

Koopman and Michael Brooks, executive director of the nonprofit Center for Auto Safety, contend that crashing into emergency vehicles is a safety defect that isn’t addressed. “It’s not digging at the root of what the investigation is looking at,” Brooks said. “It’s not answering the question of why are Teslas on Autopilot not detecting and responding to emergency activity?”

Koopman said NHTSA apparently decided that the software change was the most it could get from the company, “and the benefits of doing this now outweigh the costs of spending another year wrangling with Tesla.”

In its statement Wednesday, NHTSA said the investigation remains open “as we monitor the efficacy of Tesla’s remedies and continue to work with the automaker to ensure the highest level of safety.”

Autopilot can steer, accelerate and brake automatically in its lane, but is a driver-assist system and cannot drive itself despite its name. Independent tests have found that the monitoring system is easy to fool, so much that drivers have been caught while driving drunk or even sitting in the back seat.

In its defect report filed with the safety agency, Tesla said Autopilot’s controls “may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse.”

A message was left early Wednesday seeking further comment from the Austin, Texas, company.

Tesla says on its website that Autopilot and a more sophisticated Full Self Driving system are meant to help drivers who have to be ready to intervene at all times. Full Self Driving is being tested by Tesla owners on public roads.

In a statement posted Monday on X, formerly Twitter, Tesla said safety is stronger when Autopilot is engaged.

NHTSA has dispatched investigators to 35 Tesla crashes since 2016 in which the agency suspects the vehicles were running on an automated system. At least 17 people have been killed.

The investigations are part of a larger probe by the NHTSA into multiple instances of Teslas using Autopilot crashing into emergency vehicles. NHTSA has become more aggressive in pursuing safety problems with Teslas, including a recall of Full Self Driving software.

In May, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department includes NHTSA, said Tesla shouldn’t be calling the system Autopilot because it can’t drive itself.

Tesla recalled more than 2 million vehicles over concerns that drivers could misuse the cars’ Autosteer features within Autopilot, according to regulatory filings posted Wednesday.

The NHTSA found that in some circumstances where a feature called Autosteer is in use, “there may be an increased risk of a collision.”

Tesla is rolling out an “over-the-air software remedy” to fix the problem.

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TSLA-6.20 (-2.61%)

NEW YORK, NEW YORK – NOVEMBER 29: C.E.O. of Tesla, Chief Engineer of SpaceX and C.T.O. of X Elon Musk speaks during the New York Times annual DealBook summit on November 29, 2023 in New York City. Andrew Ross Sorkin returns for the NYT summit for a day of interviews with Vice President Kamala Harris, President of Taiwan Tsai Ing-Wen, C.E.O. of Tesla, Chief Engineer of SpaceX and C.T.O. of X Elon Musk, former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and leaders in business, pol
C.E.O. of Tesla, Chief Engineer of SpaceX and C.T.O. of X Elon Musk speaks during the New York Times annual DealBook summit on November 29, 2023 in New York City.
Michael M. Santiago | Getty Images



is recalling around 2 million of its vehicles in the U.S. to fix Autopilot features that auto safety regulators found to be confusing to drivers, or too easy for them to misuse and abuse. While Tesla did not concur with the agency’s analysis, according to the filings, the electric vehicle maker agreed to issue a voluntary recall and roll out an “over-the-air software remedy” to fix the problem.

In filings posted to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration website Wednesday, the agency found that, in some circumstances where a feature called Autosteer is in use, ”there may be an increased risk of a collision.”

Autosteer is a component of Tesla’s “Basic Autopilot” package that is intended for use on “controlled-access highways” and can provide “steering, braking and acceleration support” for drivers in certain conditions, the filings said. Drivers are supposed to keep their hands on the steering wheel and remain attentive while using Autosteer so that they can intervene if necessary.

The feature uses several controls to determine that drivers are still engaged when using Autosteer, but the NHTSA found that “the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse,” according to the report.

The recall will affect 2,031,220 of Tesla’s Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Model Y vehicles built since 2012, the filings said. The software remedy began rolling out Tuesday, and the NHTSA said the remaining impacted vehicles would receive the update “at a later date.” The fix is free to all customers.

The NHTSA opened an investigation into 11 incidents involving Tesla cars that were engaging Autosteer in 2021, which ultimately led to the recall. Tesla cooperated with the investigation and had “several meetings” with NHTSA representatives, the agency said.

Shares of Tesla were down more than 1% on Wednesday.

For an Autopilot fix and future software update to Autosteer, Tesla plans to roll out “additional controls and alerts,” to “further encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility whenever Autosteer is engaged” according to a Part 573 Recall Report it filed with the agency.

Those controls will include more prominent visual alerts on Tesla’s touch screens, “simplifying engagement and disengagement of Autosteer.” The update will also add “additional checks” for drivers using Autosteer, including while “outside controlled access highways and when approaching traffic controls.” Tesla’s filing with the NHTSA also says drivers can eventually get locked out of using Autosteer if they do not use it responsibly.

Tesla did not immediately respond to a request for further information.