Electric car giant Tesla is recalling more than two million vehicles in the US after the country’s top safety regulator found that its driver assistance system, Autopilot, was partly defective.
The recall follows a two-year investigation into crashes involving Teslas with Autopilot engaged. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that the system’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse. Tesla has agreed to send an over-the-air software update to fix the issue. The update will include additional alerts and monitoring to ensure that drivers are paying attention and that the system is only used in appropriate conditions.
The recall does not apply to Teslas sold in the UK, as the UK’s Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) said it is not aware of any safety issues with Tesla vehicles in the UK.
A former Tesla employee told the BBC that he believes the Autopilot system is not safe. Lukasz Krupski, who spoke after winning the Blueprint Prize for whistleblowers, said that the hardware and software of the system are not ready for widespread use.
Tesla defended the safety of its Autopilot system in a post on Twitter, saying that safety metrics are “emphatically stronger” when Autopilot is engaged than when it is not. However, an associate professor of autonomous vehicles at University College London said that Tesla should have spent more time developing the system in the first place. Despite the recall, Tesla’s stock price has not dropped significantly. Analysts say that recalls are not unusual in the car industry and that Tesla has the financial ability to invest in fixing the issue.
Tesla has been heavily promoting Autopilot and says that it is key to the company’s future growth. Goldman Sachs analysts estimate that Tesla’s most advanced Autopilot offering, full self-driving, could generate more than $50bn a year in revenue by 2030.
However, critics have said that Tesla has misled customers about the capabilities of Autopilot, contributing to risks. The company is facing other government investigations and lawsuits in the US in relation to crashes involving the software.
The new controls that Tesla has agreed to do should help limit drivers from using Autopilot unsafely, but some experts say that regulators should have required Tesla to make Autopilot features unavailable in places where they are not supposed to be used.
The recall centres on a part of Autopilot called Autosteer, which 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 the wheel and be ready to take over from the assistive system when required.