Detroit – Tesla is recalling more than 2 million vehicles across its model range to fix a faulty system meant to ensure drivers are alert when using Autopilot.
Documents released Wednesday by U.S. security officials say the company will issue a software update to fix the problem.
The revocation takes place after two yearsinto a series of crashes that occurred while Autopilot’s partially automated driving system was in use. Some were fatal.
A spokesman for the agency said in a statement to CBS News that its investigation found that Autopilot’s method of ensuring that drivers are alert may be inadequate and “could lead to predictable abuse of the system.”
The recall covers nearly all of the vehicles Tesla sells in the United States and includes the Y, S, 3 and X models produced between October 5, 2012 and December 7 of this year.
The software update includes additional checks and warnings “to further encourage the driver to comply with their continuous driving responsibilities,” the documents state.
The software update was sent to owners of certain affected vehicles on Tuesday, while the rest got it at a later date, the documents said.
“Automated technology holds great promise for improving safety, but only when implemented responsibly. Today’s action is an example of improving automated systems by prioritizing safety,” the NHTSA spokesman said.
Autopilot includes features called Autosteer and Traffic Aware Cruise Control, with Autosteer intended for use on limited-access highways when it doesn’t work with a more sophisticated feature called Autosteer on City Streets.
The software update will apparently limit where Autosteer can be used.
“If the driver attempts to activate Autosteer when the conditions for activation are not met, the feature will alert the driver that it is not available through visual and audible alarms and Autosteer will not activate,” the recall documents state.
The documents say the agency’s investigators met with Tesla starting in October to explain “preliminary conclusions” about the solution to the surveillance system. Tesla, it said, did not agree with the agency’s analysis but agreed to the recall on Dec. 5 in an effort to resolve the investigation.
Car safety advocates for years have beenwhich mainly detects whether a driver’s hands are on the steering wheel.
Autopilot can steer, accelerate and brake automatically in its lane, but is a driver assistance system and cannot drive itself, despite the name. Independent tests have found that the monitoring system is easy to fool, so much so that drivers have been caught driving drunk or even sitting in the back seat.
In its bug report filed with the safety agency, Tesla said Autopilot’s controls “may not be adequate to prevent driver abuse.”
A message was left early Wednesday seeking further comment from the Austin, Texas, company.
Tesla says on its website that Autopilot and a more sophisticated Full Self Driving system cannot operate autonomously and are intended to assist drivers and that they must be ready to intervene at all times. Full Self Driving is tested by Tesla owners on public roads.
In a statement posted Monday on X, formerly Twitter, Tesla said safety is stronger when Autopilot is engaged.
NHTSA has sent investigators to 35 Tesla crashes since 2016 where the agency suspects the vehicles were operating on an automated system. At least 17 people have been killed.
The investigations are part of a larger investigation by the NHTSA into several cases of Teslas using Autopilot slamming into parked emergency vehicles, tending to other crashes. NHTSA has become more aggressive in pursuing safety issues with Teslas in the past year, announcing several recalls and investigations, including a recall of Full Self Driving software.
In May, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, whose department includes NHTSA, said Tesla shouldn’t call the system Autopilot because it can’t drive itself.
In its statement Wednesday, NHTSA said the Tesla investigation remains open “as we monitor the effectiveness of Tesla’s funds and continue to work with the automaker to ensure the highest level of safety.”