Engineer Petitions NHTSA to Recall Tesla Vehicles with Autopilot Feature Due to Unintended Acceleration Accidents

A Tesla "autopilot" feature lets the driver switch gears without depressing the brake pedal, which has led to hundreds of unintended acceleration accidents, the petition claims

A noted engineer indicates that U.S. federal highway safety officials should force a recall for all Tesla models manufactured over the last decade, claiming the vehicles are equipped with a dangerously designed autopilot feature, which has been linked to more than 200 auto accidents involving unintended acceleration.

Greek engineer and accident investigator Costas Lakafossis filed a Tesla recall petition (PDF) with the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) on March 21, impacting all vehicles manufactured since 2013. Lakafossis is a photojournalist, documentary filmmaker and former rally and race car driver, who has often focused on engineering issues.

According to the petition, more than 1.6 million Tesla vehicles are equipped with a feature called “autopilot”, part of a package of self-driving features assists with navigation and driving, and which allows drivers to shift gears without touching the brake pedal. Lakafossis warns this may increase the likelihood of sudden and unexpected acceleration. However, the petition claims the Tesla autopilot feature is actually a marketing ploy, which is intended to sell more vehicles, while endangering the lives of motorists and pedestrians.

Petition Claims Tesla Autopilot Feature Causes Dangerous Acceleration

As part of the petition filed with the NHTSA, technical documents detailed how the Tesla autopilot feature does not require drivers to physically press the brake pedal with their foot before shifting from Drive to Reverse (or vice versa). Instead, they can automatically switch gears while still moving forward.

While this autopilot feature is marketed to Tesla drivers as “feet off automatic braking and parking,” the petition states it is actually a “potentially dangerous party trick.”

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The petition points to data showing that a Brake Transmission Shift Interlock (BTSI) system, which is not installed on Tesla vehicles with the autopilot feature, reduces instances of sudden unintended acceleration due to driver error. BTSI systems require drivers to physical press on the brake pedal before shifting an automatic transmission out of park.

BTSI systems have been mandatory since 2010 for all U.S. vehicles with an automatic gearbox including a “park” position. Tesla vehicles with autopilot feature are currently exempt from this requirement, because they do not have a traditional gearbox transmission system.

Hundreds of Tesla Autopilot Acceleration Accidents Reported

The petition calls for the NHTSA to urgently consider the recall in the interest of public safety. According to the petition, accident reports and prior Tesla recall requests logged with the agency have cited more than 200 sudden unintended acceleration accidents involving Tesla vehicles. Most of these accidents were attributed to pedal misapplication by the driver and not a technical malfunction with the vehicle.

To prevent further Tesla autopilot accidents, the petition suggests the automatic parking and braking feature should be prohibited on all models. It also recommends a software update should be applied to the impacted vehicles, which would require drivers to physically press the brakes when changing gears.

Tesla Self-Driving Car Concerns

The petition comes amid increased scrutiny of many of Tesla’s automated driving systems. Since January, more than 360,000 vehicles have been subject to a Tesla recall. The NHTSA warns these vehicles, equipped with full self-driving beta software, may be prone to errors and increase the risk of auto accidents.

The NHTSA first formally launched an investigation into Tesla autopilot vehicles in August 2021, after the cars were involved in several fatal highway accidents. Tesla admitted the full self driving (FSD) beta software was the source of crashes reported and recalled 12,000 vehicles with FSD beta in 2021.

Tesla also faces wrongful death lawsuits stemming from the FSD beta software or autopilot problems. One such lawsuit alleges the autopilot problem was the root of a cause that lead to the death of a California woman and the injuries of her husband.


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