The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) has announced an investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot autonomous vehicle technology after a number of Tesla cars were involved in crashes.
NHTSA announced the Tesla investigation on Monday. So far this year, the agency has opened 26 probes into auto and highway safety issues – more than in all of 2020 or 2019, according to a Bloomberg report. Since President Joe Biden took office in January, NHTSA has also stepped up its Tesla investigations. Nine probes of Tesla accidents have been initiated since March.
“Biden has picked leadership that is independent minded and safety-conscious,” Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog, told Bloomberg.
The Tesla investigation covers an estimated 765,000 vehicles from the 2014 model year onward. It was launched after 11 cars using Autopilot collided with fire trucks, police cars or other vehicles. The crashes resulted in 17 injuries and one death.
The announcement that NHTSA is stepping up the probe, along with a June order requiring car manufacturers to report crashes involving automated driving technology, points to the agency becoming more aggressive on the issue, Bloomberg reported.
“Taken together, that order and this particular enforcement action could be the beginnings of a more active safety enforcement agenda for NHTSA,” said Paul Hemmersbaugh, former NHTSA general counsel.
Nearly all US automakers are offering some form of advanced driver-assistance systems – technology that helps drivers park, stay in the correct lane or avoid obstacles. However, completely autonomous vehicles still aren’t commercially available.
Read next: Tesla autopilot stays – CEO
It’s vital that regulators keep up with emerging driver assistance tech, especially as automakers move closer to fully driverless vehicles, according to Jake Fisher, director of auto testing at Consumer Reports.
“In a way that we have not seen in 50 or even 100 years, the control of the vehicle is fundamentally changing, and it’s very serious,” Fisher told Bloomberg. “The technology has advanced so quickly, it’s really left regulators scrambling to keep up. It’s terrific that the regulators are finally realizing how serious this is.”
Federal lawmakers have also praised the agency’s decision to open the investigation.
“NHTSA is rightly investigating Tesla’s Autopilot after a series of concerning crashes,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “This probe must be swift, thorough, and transparent to ensure driver and public safety.”