The US auto safety regulator that is investigating Tesla's driver assistance software has raised concerns that the EV maker is risking safety by not assuring drivers pay attention while using the Autopilot system, documents released on Tuesday showed.
In a so-called special order dated July 26, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration focused on a change by Tesla that allows drivers to use Autopilot for extended periods without prompting the driver to apply torque to the steering wheel. NHTSA ordered Tesla to answer questions and produce documents but did not order any changes.
"The resulting relaxation of controls...could lead to greater driver inattention and failure of the driver to properly supervise Autopilot," NHTSA said in its letter to Tesla.
NHTSA asked when the software update was introduced, the number of vehicles affected, Tesla's reason for installing and any plans to enable the software in the next year.
The agency is investigating the performance of Autopilot after identifying more than a dozen crashes in which Tesla vehicles hit stationary emergency vehicles. It is also investigating whether Tesla vehicles adequately ensure drivers are paying attention when using the driver assistance system.
In June 2022, NHTSA upgraded an earlier probe of 830,000 Tesla vehicles into an engineering analysis - a required step before it could potentially demand a recall. Last month, NHTSA sought updated responses and current data from Tesla in the probe.
Autopilot is intended to enable cars to steer, accelerate and brake automatically within their lane, while enhanced Autopilot can assist in changing lanes on highways.
In April, Tesla CEO Elon Musk tweeted that Tesla is gradually reducing alerts aimed at making sure drivers using Tesla's "Full Self-Driving" (FSD) system keep their hands on the wheel. He also this week said "Yeah" in response to an X message that "No steering wheel nag will be a *game changer* for FSD user satisfaction."
The special order requests documents and explanations by Aug. 25 to help with NHTSA's inquiry. Late responses can incur a penalty of $26,315 per day.