America’s top transportation safety regulator wants to know why Tesla didn’t issue a recall of its “Autopilot” feature after a series of deadly crashes with emergency vehicles — and is investigating the company’s requirement that “full self driving” testers sign non-disclosure agreements.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration is threatening to hit Tesla with hundreds of millions of dollars in fines.
Following a series of incidents in which Teslas in autopilot mode allegedly crashed into police and other emergency crews, Tesla issued a software update that addressed the problem, according to a letter the NHTSA sent to Tesla.
But issuing software updates that fix safety issues without issuing a formal recall is against the agency’s rules.
“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,” the agency told Eddie Gates, Tesla’s director of field quality, in a letter that was first reported by the Associated Press.
The letter asks for a list of events that motivated the software update, as well as what vehicles it was sent to and whether the measures extend to Tesla’s entire fleet.
It also asks the Elon Musk-helmed company — which recently revealed plans to relocate its headquarters from California to Texas — whether it intends to file recall documents.
“If not, please furnish Tesla’s technical and/or legal basis for declining to do so,” the agency asks.
Tesla has to comply with the request by Nov. 1 or face court action and civil fines of more than $114 million, the agency wrote.
In a separate special order sent to Tesla, NHTSA says that the company may be taking steps to hinder the agency’s access to safety information by requiring drivers who are testing “Full Self-Driving” software to sign non-disclosure agreements.
The order demands that Tesla describe the non-disclosure agreements and how they are signed by Tesla drivers. The company also must say whether Tesla requires owners of vehicles equipped with autopilot to agree “to any terms that would prevent or discourage vehicle owners from sharing information about or discussing any aspect of Autopilot with any person other than Tesla.”
Responses must be made by a Tesla officer under oath. If Tesla fails to fully comply, the order says the matter could be referred to the Justice Department for court action to force responses. It also threatens more fines of over $114 million.
Tesla, which does not have a media relations department, did not reply to a requests for comment from The Post or the Associated Press.
The letter represents a further chilling of the already frosty relationship between the NHTSA and Tesla.
In August, the agency said it had opened a formal investigation into Tesla’s autopilot and was aware of 11 crashes since 2018 in which Teslas on Autopilot or Traffic Aware Cruise Control have hit emergency vehicles with flashing lights, flares or other emergency signals.
The investigation covers 765,000 vehicles — or nearly every car that the company has made since 2014.