Federal safety regulators are mulling a probe after Tesla owners complained that their cars were stopping for no reason.
The issue may stem from Tesla’s automatic braking feature hitting the brakes when there is no need to do so. A spokesperson for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said the agency “is aware of complaints received about forward collision avoidance and is reviewing them through our risk-based evaluation process.”
“If the data show that a risk may exist, NHTSA will act immediately,” the spokesperson said.
Although automatic braking features can help prevent accidents, they can also cause problems or even rear-end collisions if the system stops the car unnecessarily when falsely detecting an obstacle.
An investigation would be the final step before the agency would demand that the company recall the vehicles to fix the feature.
In October, in response to complaints to NHTSA from Tesla owners, the company issued an update to its automatic braking software. But the complaints have reportedly soared since then. The Washington Post reported that phantom braking complaints to NHTSA rose to 107 in the past three months, compared with only 34 in the preceding 22 months.
This is just the latest in a string of safety issues raised by NHTSA about Tesla. Earlier this week, the EV maker was forced to recall all 53,822 of its vehicles equipped with the “full self-driving” feature because the software was intentionally programmed to slowly roll through stop signs in some scenarios.
Last year, NHTSA also forced Tesla to disable a feature that allowed occupants to play video games on the dashboard computer screen while the car was in motion. And the agency is also investigating numerous instances of Teslas in self-driving mode hitting emergency vehicles parked at the site of traffic accidents.
Tesla did not respond to a request for comment.
The growing number of complaints about the automaker led Senators Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Edward Markey of Massachusetts to criticize Tesla.
“Although automated driving and driver assistance systems have the potential to enhance safety, they must be implemented with strong safeguards that will ensure our cars follow the rules of the road and drivers are fully engaged,” said the statement from the two Democratic senators. “We commend NHTSA for its ongoing work to investigate the situation and urge it to continue taking all appropriate action to protect all users of the road.”
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