The Safety Issues Behind Tesla’s Massive 2 Million Vehicle Recall

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Need to Know from SafeWise
  • Tesla recalls 2 million vehicles with Autosteer due to driver misuse concerns.
  • NHTSA's two-year investigation of Tesla's driver assistance system led to the recall after 322 crashes and 17 deaths.
  • Tesla offers free software updates with added controls to promote driver responsibility.
  • Check if your Tesla is affected by the recall using the VIN Recall Search tool on Tesla's website, updated as of December 13, 2023.
Indianapolis - Circa September 2019: Tesla electric vehicles awaiting preparation for sale.

Image: jetcityimage, iStock

Tesla, the renowned electric vehicle manufacturer, is in the spotlight once again, but this time, it's for a massive recall affecting over 2 million of its vehicles. The recall, prompted by concerns over the safety of Tesla's Autosteer feature, has raised important questions about the role of automation in modern vehicles and the responsibility of both drivers and manufacturers.

The recall details

The recall encompasses several Tesla models, including the 2012-2023 Model S, 2016-2023 Model X, 2017-2023 Model 3, and 2020-2023 Model Y, all equipped with Autosteer, a feature that Tesla markets as "traffic-aware cruise control."

The critical issue at the heart of this recall is the Autosteer feature's ability to prevent driver misuse. The recall notice highlighted that in certain situations when Autosteer is engaged, the controls may not be sufficient to prevent drivers from misusing the system. While Autosteer maintains speed and follow distances, and detects lane markings and other vehicles, Tesla emphasizes that drivers must keep their hands on the steering wheel and be prepared to take immediate control, even when the feature is active.

The massive recall followed a thorough two-year investigation by the NHTSA into the safety of Tesla's driver assistance systems. Investigators reviewed 956 crashes initially believed to involve Autopilot, narrowing their focus to 322 Autopilot-involved crashes. Unfortunately, these crashes resulted in at least 17 deaths, raising concerns about the system's effectiveness.

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What is Autosteer?

Autosteer is a component of Tesla's Autopilot system that offers steering, braking, and acceleration support to drivers. It's intended for use with an attentive driver who keeps their hands on the wheel and is ready to take over at any moment. Importantly, Autosteer is designed for use on controlled-access highways and should not be used on city streets in conjunction with other Autosteer features.


Tesla's response and actions taken

Tesla cooperated with the NHTSA throughout the investigation, even though it did not fully agree with the agency's engineering analysis of the Autosteer issue. Nevertheless, on December 5, Tesla voluntarily agreed to administer a recall and remedy by offering affected vehicles a free over-the-air software update. This update will incorporate additional controls and alerts aimed at encouraging drivers to maintain their continuous responsibility when Autosteer is engaged.

Owners of the impacted vehicles will receive notifications via mail, and as of December 8, Tesla had identified nine warranty claims that may be related to the Autosteer issue.

Tesla's stance and controversy

This massive recall poses a significant challenge to Tesla, a company known for its Autopilot and "Full Self Driving" mode, which it has often touted as safe. Despite the recall, Tesla defended its technology, stating, "Safety metrics are emphatically stronger when Autopilot is engaged than when not engaged." This statement came in response to a Washington Post article highlighting eight fatal or serious Tesla crashes when Autopilot should not have been enabled.

This is not the first time Tesla has faced safety-related recalls. In February this year, the company recalled more than 360,000 vehicles due to issues with its "full self-driving" software.

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Why no physical recall?

Tesla's recall is unique in not requiring owners to take their cars to a service center. Instead, the company will address the issue through an automatic software update.


The NHTSA's ongoing involvement

The NHTSA remains vigilant, with a spokesperson telling NBC News that the agency's investigation "remains open as we monitor the efficacy of Tesla's remedies and continue to work with the automaker to ensure the highest level of safety." They also emphasized the importance of deploying automated technology responsibly.

Is your Tesla safe?

For Tesla owners, it's essential to understand that the Autopilot system, which comes standard on all new Tesla vehicles, includes features like automatic steering assistance and cruise control. However, as the recall highlights, drivers must remain attentive and ready to intervene, as the Autosteer system may not always prevent misuse.

How to check if your Tesla is affected

Tesla provides a VIN Recall Search tool on its website (tesla.com/vin-recall-search), allowing drivers to see if their vehicles are affected by the recall. The tool's data is current as of December 13, 2023.

Tesla's massive recall of over two million vehicles serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges and responsibilities associated with advancing automation in the automotive industry. As technology continues to evolve, ensuring the safety of both drivers and pedestrians remains paramount, and this recall underscores the need for responsible deployment and continuous improvement of automated systems.

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Disclaimer: Portions of this article were assisted by automation technology. All content therein has been augmented, thoroughly edited, and fact-checked by our in-house editorial staff of human safety experts.

Rebecca Edwards
Written by
Rebecca Edwards
Rebecca is the lead safety reporter and in-house expert for SafeWise.com. She has been a journalist and blogger for over 25 years, with a focus on home and community safety for the past decade. Rebecca spends dozens of hours every month poring over crime and safety reports and spotting trends. Her expertise is sought after by publications, broadcast journalists, non-profit organizations, podcasts, and more. You can find her expert advice and analysis in places like NPR, TechCrunch, The Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, HGTV, MSN, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, and an ever-growing library of podcast, radio and TV clips in the US and abroad.

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