U.S. security investigators want to know why Tesla updated its autopilot software to better identify parked emergency vehicles, leading to a dispute between automakers and regulators.
In a letter to Tesla, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration told the electric car maker on Tuesday that it should recall vehicles if more updates from the Internet were related to a security flaw.
In a letter to Tesla Director Eddie Gates, the agency said:
The agency has also ordered Tesla to provide information about its “complete self-driving” software, which is being tested on public roads with some owners.
The latest collision is another sign of growing tensions between Tesla and the agency that controls vehicle safety and a partially automated driving system.
In August, the agency launched an investigation into Tesla’s autopilot after warning lights flashed and stopped on highways following reports of collisions with emergency vehicles. The software can keep cars in their lanes and keep a safe distance from vehicles in front of them.
The messages were released early Wednesday for comment to Tesla.
The NHTSA launched a formal investigation into the autopilot after a series of collisions with parked emergency vehicles. The investigation includes 765,000 vehicles, almost everything Tesla has sold in the United States since the start of the 2014 model year. Of the dozens of accidents that are part of the investigation, 17 were injured and one died.
According to the agency, Tesla updated more software than the Internet in late September to improve the detection of emergency vehicle lights in low light conditions. The agency says Tesla is aware that it is urging federal lawmakers to find out if there are safety flaws in the vehicles.
The agency asked for information about Tesla’s “Emergency Light Detection Update” which was sent to specific vehicles with the stated purpose of detecting emergency vehicle lights in low light conditions and then issuing driver alerts and vehicle. The autopilot is busy responding to detection with changes in speed.
The letter asks for a list of events that encourage software updates, as well as which vehicles have been shipped and whether these measures extend to Tesla’s entire fleet.
It also asks the Palo Alto, California, company if it intends to file recall documents. “If not, please provide Tesla’s technical and / or legal grounds for refusing to do so,” the agency asks.
Philip Kopman, a professor of electrical and computer engineering at Carnegie Mellon University, said the NHTSA clearly wanted Tesla recalled. “They’re giving Tesla a chance to bring down the hammer,” said Copeman, who studies automotive safety.
When automakers find a safety flaw, they must notify NHTSA within five working days, and they must be reminded. The NHTSA monitors reminders to make sure they cover all affected vehicles.
Public reminders allow owners to make sure repairs are made, and thus people who buy cars are aware of potential safety issues.
The NHTSA’s measures give all carmakers notice that when they update software over the Internet, they have to report to the agency if they resolve a security issue. This is another new technology that the agency has to deal with as many carmakers follow Tesla with the potential of Internet software.
“Now every company is exposed every time they update over the air because the NHTSA can come back weeks later and say, ‘Wait a minute, it’s secret. I remembered.
The agency wrote that Tesla would have to comply with the request by November 1 or face legal action and a civil fine of more than 4 114 million.
In a separate order to Tesla, the NHTSA says the company is taking steps to block the agency’s access to safety information from drivers who are testing “complete self-driving” software so that Disclosure agreements can be signed.
The order requires Tesla to clarify non-disclosure agreements and to state whether the company needs to agree to auto-pilot vehicle owners on certain terms that provide vehicle owners with information about auto-pilots. Stop sharing or discussing or discouraging it. Tesla ”
Under the oath, the answers will have to be given to a Tesla officer. If Tesla fails to fully comply, the order says the matter could be referred to the Justice Department. It has also threatened more than 4 114 million in fines.
Tesla says neither fully self-driving vehicles nor auto-pilots can drive. It warns drivers to be prepared to intervene at all times.
Shares of Tesla rose slightly on Wednesday morning.
It was not clear how Tesla and CEO Elon Musk would respond to the NHTSA’s demands. The company and Musk have a long history of disputes with federal regulators.
In January, Tesla rejected a request from NHTSA to recall about 135,000 vehicles because their touch screens could go dark. The agency said the screen was a security flaw because the backup camera and windshield defroster controls could be disabled.
A month later, after the NHTSA held a public hearing and began the process of taking Tesla to court, the company agreed to recall. Tesla said it would replace computer processors for screens, although it said there was no security risk.
Musk claimed in a 2018 tweet with the Securities and Exchange Commission that he had financing to privatize Tesla when the funding was not secure. He and the company agreed to pay 20 20 million to settle the allegations of misleading the investors. Musk called the SEC the “Short Seller Enrichment Commission,” distorting the meaning of the acronym. Short sellers bet that the stock price will fall.
NHTSA’s new demands point to President Joe Biden’s tough regulatory stance on automated vehicle safety compared to the previous administration. The agency appears reluctant to regulate new technology for fear of potentially hindering the adoption of life-saving systems.