Elon Musk’s Tesla is recalling two million cars in the US due to an Autopilot defect
  • By Tom Gergen & Chris Vallance
  • Technical reporters

Tesla is recalling more than two million cars after a US regulator found its driver-assistance system Autopilot partially defective.

The recall applies to every Tesla sold in the U.S. since the Autopilot feature was introduced in 2015.

Tesla, owned by billionaire Elon Musk, said it was sending a software update “over the air” to fix the problem.

The update happens automatically and does not require a trip to the dealership or garage, but is referred to as a recall by the US regulator.

The BBC UK has reached out to the Driver and Vehicle Standards Institute to ask how Tesla drivers in the UK will be affected.

Autopilot is meant to assist with steering, acceleration and braking – but, despite the name, the car still requires driver input.

The US National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) issued the recall due to a problem with Autopilot’s driver monitoring system, which detects whether the driver is paying attention.

As part of what it called a “comprehensive” two-year investigation, NHTSA reviewed 956 crashes originally reported to have involved Autopilot in use.

That investigation culminated in this recall, and Tesla admitted that the system’s controls “may not be sufficient to prevent driver abuse.”

“Automated technology holds great promise for improving safety, but only when it’s used responsibly,” wrote NHTSA, which will continue to monitor the software once it’s upgraded.

Speaking after winning the Blueprint Prize to Recognize Whistleblowers, Lukasz Krupski told the BBC: “I don’t think the hardware is ready and the software is ready”.

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“It affects all of us because we’re basically doing tests on public roads,” he said.

Responding to the recall, Mr Krupsky told the BBC it was “a step in the right direction” but pointed out it was not a problem in the US.

“The hardware is the same in all Teslas in the US and China,” he said

Tesla has yet to respond to the BBC’s request for comment, but on Tuesday, the company defended the safety of Autopilot. In a post on X (formerly Twitter) in response to a Washington Post article.

“Safety measures are demonstrably stronger when autopilot is engaged than when not,” it wrote, pointing to statistics showing fewer crashes when the system was used.

Jack Stilko, an associate professor at University College London who studies autonomous vehicles, said Tesla should have spent more time developing the computer first.

“The usual way to ensure safety is to check that the car is safe when it leaves the factory,” he told the BBC.

But while this is the second recall this year affecting Tesla vehicles, Susannah Streeter of investment firm Hargreaves Lansdowne said her assessment is that the carmaker’s speed should not be too much of a check:

“Getting these 2 million cars back on their own is unlikely to dampen enthusiasm. The share price has dipped a bit, but it doesn’t seem to be suffering from a bad slide.

“After all, the recall is unusual in the car industry and the group has the financial capacity to invest in corrections,” he added.

Additional warnings

The recall centers on a part of Autopilot called Autosteer.

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Autosteer works with “traffic-aware cruise control” to help keep the car in the right lane by matching the car’s speed to the surrounding traffic.

The driver is expected to keep their hands on the wheel and be ready to take over from the assistance system when needed.

When Autosteer is on, in-car systems monitor the driver’s attention. There are warnings if the driver is found to be missing. There are also alerts if the driver tries to use Autosteer in inappropriate situations.

According to recall documents Tesla provided to NHTSA, the “over the air update” will include additional alerts and monitoring to “encourage the driver to exercise continued driving responsibility whenever Autosteer is engaged.”

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