NHTSA asks Tesla if it plans to issue recall after Autopilot update

WASHINGTON — U.S. auto safety regulators are requesting information from Tesla Inc. on its Full Self-Driving beta testing program and asking whether the electric vehicle maker intends to recall vehicles that received over-the-air updates to better detect emergency vehicles.

Tesla must respond to the agency by Nov. 1, or it could face civil penalties of up to nearly $115 million.

In a letter sent Tuesday, NHTSA said it was seeking information on Tesla’s early October release of a  Full Self-Driving beta request menu option for customers and an update to its Autopilot driver-assist system in September that was intended to improve the detection of emergency vehicle lights in low-light conditions.

“Any manufacturer issuing an over-the-air update that mitigates a defect that poses an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety is required to timely file an accompanying recall notice to NHTSA,” Gregory Magno, chief of the vehicle defects division at NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation, wrote in the letter to Eddie Gates, Tesla’s director of field quality.

Among the requests, NHTSA is asking Tesla to submit a chronology of events and any internal investigations that led to its deployment of the update and a list of vehicles that received it. NHTSA also is asking whether Tesla intends to file a safety recall covering those vehicles.

The agency is asking Tesla for an assessment of any changes to incident timing or outcome had the emergency-light detection update been operational in the 12 Tesla crashes involving Autopilot and first-responder scenes under investigation by NHTSA.

Federal regulators in August opened an investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot mode after a series of collisions with first-responder vehicles where the driver-assist system was engaged. NHTSA’s safety probe covers an estimated 765,000 Teslas from the 2014 to 2021 model years. Most of the crashes occurred after dark and in total resulted in 17 injuries and one death.

The agency also is seeking information on Tesla’s criteria and timeline for allowing access to customers who have requested consideration in the Full Self-Driving beta request process.

Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted on Monday that the newest version — beta 10.2 — will be available to those with safety scores of 100 and who have driven more than 100 miles. Participants must agree to let Tesla assess their driving behavior for a week.

Tesla’s Full Self-Driving expands the Autopilot mode by including more advanced driver-assistance features, but drivers must remain fully engaged in the driving task. No automaker sells a self-driving vehicle to the public today.

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