Elon Musk’s Tesla recalls two million cars in US over Autopilot defect

  • By Tom Gerken & Chris Vallance
  • Technology reporters

Tesla is recalling more than two million cars after the US regulator found its driver assistance system, Autopilot, was partly defective.

The recall applies to almost every Tesla sold in the US since the Autopilot feature was launched in 2015.

Tesla, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, said it would send a software update “over the air” to fix the issue.

The update happens automatically, and does not require a visit to a dealership or garage, but is still referred to by the US regulator as a recall.

The BBC has approached the UK Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency to ask how Tesla drivers in the UK will be affected.

Autopilot is meant to help with steering, acceleration and braking – but, despite the name, the car still requires driver input.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said the recall was due to an issue with Autopilot’s driver monitoring system, which detects whether the driver is paying attention.

As part of what it has called an “extensive” two year investigation, NHTSA reviewed 956 crashes where Autopilot was initially alleged to have been in use.

That investigation has culminated in this recall, and with Tesla conceding that the system’s controls “may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse”.

“Automated technology holds great promise for improving safety but only when it is deployed responsibly”, the NHTSA wrote, adding it would continue to monitor the software once it was updated.

Lukasz Krupski, speaking after winning the Blueprint Prize which recognises whistleblowers, told the BBC: “I don’t think the hardware is ready and the software is ready”.

“It affects all of us because we are essentially experiments in public roads”, he claimed.

Reacting to the news of the recall Mr Krupski told the BBC it was “a step in the right direction” but pointed out it was not just a problem in the US.

“The hardware is the same in all the Tesla’s in the US, China etc.”, he said

Tesla has not so far responded to the BBC’s request for comment but, on Tuesday, the company defended the safety of Autopilot in a post on X (formerly Twitter) in response to a Washington Post article.

“Safety metrics are emphatically stronger when Autopilot is engaged than when not engaged” it wrote, pointing to statistics that suggested there were fewer crashes when the system was used.

Jack Stilgoe, associate professor at University College London, who researches autonomous vehicles, said Tesla should have spent more time developing the system in the first place.

“The conventional way of ensuring safety is to check that a car is safe when it leaves the factory”, he told the BBC.

But despite this being the second recall this year affecting Tesla vehicles, Susannah Streeter of investment company Hargreaves Lansdown, said her assessment was that it should not check the carmaker’s momentum too greatly:

“This recall of 2 million cars on its own is not likely to seriously quash enthusiasm. The share price has dropped back slightly, but it doesn’t look like it’ll be hit by a bad bout of skidding.

“After all, recalls in the car industry are far from unusual and the group also has the financial ability to invest in fixes”, she added.

Additional alerts

The recall centres on a part of Autopilot called Autosteer.

Autosteer helps keep a car in the correct lane in conjunction with “traffic-aware cruise control” which matches the speed of the car to that of the surrounding traffic.

The driver is expected to have their hands on wheel and be ready to take over from the assistive system when required.

When Autosteer is on, systems in the car monitor that the driver is paying attention. If it detects the driver isn’t there are warning alerts. There are also alerts if the driver tries to use Autosteer in inappropriate circumstances.

According to the recall documents Tesla supplied to the NHTSA, the “over the air update” will include additional alerts and monitoring “to encourage the driver to adhere to their continuous driving responsibility whenever Autosteer is engaged.”


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