Tesla has come under fire from federal and state regulators over both the safety and capabilities of its advanced Autopilot driver assistance system.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) asked Tesla on Thursday to answer questions about its dash cam as part of an ongoing study of 830,000 Tesla vehicles that include Autopilot. Tesla says the cockpit camera is built with a driver monitoring system which can determine if the driver is not paying attention and send them noise warnings as a reminder to keep their eyes on the road while Autopilot is engaged.
After previously relying on a system that could detect when the driver’s hands were on the wheel, Tesla introduced its camera-based driver monitoring system in May last year.
The NHTSA investigation also asked for information on how Tesla generates its quarterly safety reports, which is recent a report by the Virginia Transportation Research Board proved misleading.
Separately, in late July the California Department of Motor Vehicles accused Tesla of false advertising its Autopilot and the so-called “Full Self-Driving” (FSD) system, another more advanced ADAS costing drivers an additional $12,000 for automated driving features such as Summon parking or Navigate on Autopilot, which navigates cars from on-ramp to off-ramp.
Tesla responded on Thursday requesting a hearing from the California DMV to present a defense to allegations that it misled prospective customers. According to the DMV’s process for handling allegations, Tesla has the right to request a hearing to defend itself. That could lead to a settlement discussion between the department and Tesla, after which the DMV would schedule a hearing at the Office of Administrative Hearings, according to a DMV spokesman.
Tesla’s increased heat comes as NHTSA is investigating 16 crashes in which Tesla owners potentially engaged Autopilot and then rammed into stationary emergency vehicles, resulting in 15 injuries and one fatality.
NHTSA’s nine-page letter demands that Tesla respond by Sept. 19 to various requests — such as the role Tesla’s in-cab camera plays in enforcing driver engagement and detailed descriptions of how the automaker designed and engineered the system that enforces driver engagement and attention, ” including evidence that justifies the length of time a driver is allowed to keep his hands off the wheel before receiving a warning…”.
NHTSA also asked Tesla to identify any US lawsuit involving Tesla in which a party alleges a motor vehicle crash was related to Autopilot and describe the process and methodology for Tesla vehicle safety reports.
Tesla has until October 12 to submit detailed information from either the CAN logs or video/data clips regarding each incident vehicle to a separate list provided by NHTSA. The information NHTSA is looking for includes the amount of time Autopilot was engaged, the grade of the road at the time of the impact, and data on both the system and the driver’s behavior immediately before the impact.
NHTSA told TechCrunch that it cannot comment on open investigations, but that the agency “routinely sends letters requesting information as part of the investigative process.”