Tesla’s Autopilot Linked To More Than 200 Crashes And 29 Deaths

Photo: Brandon Bell (Getty Images)
Photo: Brandon Bell (Getty Images)

Good morning! It’s Monday, April 29, 2024, and this is The Morning Shift, your daily roundup of the top automotive headlines from around the world, in one place. Here are the important stories you need to know.

1st Gear: NHTSA Blames Autopilot Deaths On ‘Weak Driver Engagement’

After a series of high-profile crashes involving cars fitted with Tesla’s advanced driver assistance tech Autopilot, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration launched a probe into the system to see just how safe it was for thousands of drivers to be relying on it every day. Now, that probe has concluded that the software does a poor job at keeping drivers engaged, which has been linked to more than 200 crashes and 29 deaths on America’s roads.

NHTSA just published its finding in a report that looks into almost 1,000 crashes involving Tesla cars and things aren’t looking good. According to the Verge, the report linked Autopilot and Tesla’s Full Self-Driving software to 956 crashes between January 2018 and August 2023. As the Verge reports:

In its report, the agency found that Autopilot — and, in some cases, FSD — was not designed to keep the driver engaged in the task of driving. Tesla says that it warns its customers that they need to pay attention while using Autopilot and FSD, which includes keeping their hands on the wheels and eyes on the road. But NHTSA says that in many cases, drivers would become overly complacent and lose focus. And when it came time to react, it was often too late.

In 59 crashes examined by NHTSA, the agency found that Tesla drivers had enough time, “five or more seconds,” prior to crashing into another object in which to react. In 19 of those crashes, the hazard was visible for 10 or more seconds before the collision. Reviewing crash logs and data provided by Tesla, NHTSA found that drivers failed to brake or steer to avoid the hazard in a majority of the crashes analyzed.

When compared with similar tech from other companies, NHTSA investigators found that the Tesla systems weren’t up to scratch at keeping drivers engaged with the task of driving. The probe concluded that Tesla paired a “weak driver engagement system” with a “misleading” name in Autopilot, reports the Verge. As such, “Tesla’s products lure drivers into thinking they are more capable than they are,” the site adds.

2nd Gear: Tesla Set To Expand Autopilot Into China

However, a few choice words from regulators in the U.S. won’t do much to stem Elon Musk’s campaign to take over the world with his barrage of electric vehicles. Now, the Tesla boss is in China, where he appears to have cleared most of the regulatory hurdles required to roll Autopilot out into the world’s largest car market.

Before rolling out Autopilot and Full Self-Driving to cars in China, Musk reportedly needed to gain permission to collect data from roads across China and share driving data overseas, reports Reuters. Those two hurdles appear to have been overcome, as Reuters explains:

On Monday, two separate sources told Reuters Tesla had reached an agreement with Baidu to use the Chinese tech giant’s mapping license for data collection on China’s public roads, which they described as a key step for FSD to be introduced in the country.

And a top Chinese auto association said on Sunday Tesla’s Model 3 and Y cars were among models that it had tested and found to be compliant with China’s data security requirements.

Data security and compliance have been key reasons why the U.S. electric vehicle maker, which rolled out the most autonomous version of its Autopilot software four years ago, has yet to make FSD available in China, its second-largest market globally, despite customer demand.

Tesla recently slashed the price of its advanced driver assistance features here in the U.S. after repeatedly cutting the costs of its cars. By opening the systems up to overseas markets such as China, the automaker will be hoping to recoup some of the profits it lost in the first quarter of this year.

3rd Gear: DOJ Ends Investigation Into Mercedes Diesel Emissions

If it’s not investigations into autonomous cars here in the U.S., then its probes into diesel emissions. Now, it’s time for the latter as the Department of Justice has reportedly closed its investigation into emissions from Mercedes-Benz diesel engines without filing any charges against the German automaker.

The eight-year-long investigation into Mercedes came to an end without charges being filed against the automaker, reports Forbes. The move comes just four years after Mercedes reached a $1.5 billion settlement for a set of different cheating allegations relating to emissions tests. As Forbes explains:

The investigation stemmed from a class action lawsuit that alleged some of the automaker’s vehicles violated emissions standards, according to Bloomberg. Mercedes-Benz said it “agreed to cooperate fully” with the investigation, and reportedly said the claims in the lawsuit were “baseless.”

Daimler and Mercedes-Benz reached a $1.5 billion settlement in September 2020 with regulators—the DOJ, Environmental Protection Agency and California Air Resources Board—to settle allegations of emissions cheating, which allegedly violated the Clean Air Act and California state law. The settlement stemmed from separate civil complaints from the California Air Resources Board and the U.S.

German outlet Handelsblatt first reported the closure of the probe into Mercedes-Benz, and so far has not reported what led the Justice Department to end its probe. Handelsblatt and Forbes reached out to the DOJ for comment, but it has so far issued no statement about the reason for the ending of the investigation.

4th Gear: UAW Agrees Deal With Daimler Trucks, Avoids Strike

In a dash of slightly better news to round things off today, workers at Daimler Trucks reached a tentative agreement with the firm on the eve of their contract expiring.

United Auto Workers union employees at the truck maker reached the deal just before their contract was set to explore on April 26, reports Automotive News. The new contract secured pay increases of more than 25 percent, the end of wage tiers and the introduction of profit sharing and cost-of-living allowances. As the site reports:

“When this deal is ratified, you’ll get a 10 percent raise,” UAW President Shawn Fain said in his prepared remarks. “Six months later, another 3 percent. Six months after that, another 3 percent. That’s a 16 percent raise in the first year of the deal, alone.”

Daimler Truck said in a statement: “The UAW members... will now be asked to vote on the new contracts, and we hope to finalize them soon, for the mutual benefit of all parties.”

The contract applies to more than 7,300 Daimler workers at unionized plants in America. Members will now be given the final vote on the contract in the coming days.

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