Tesla is recalling all 363,000 US vehicles with its so-called “Full Self Driving” driver assist software due to safety risks, another blow to the feature that is central to the automaker’s business model.
“Full self-driving,” as it currently stands, navigates local roads with steering, braking and acceleration, but requires a human driver prepared to take control at any moment, as the system makes judgment errors. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that, based on its analysis, Tesla’s FSD feature “led to an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety based on insufficient adherence to traffic safety laws.” And it warned FSD could violate traffic laws at some intersections “before some drivers may intervene.”
“The FSD Beta system may allow the vehicle to act unsafe around intersections, such as traveling straight through an intersection while in a turn-only lane, entering a stop sign-controlled intersection without coming to a complete stop, or proceeding into an intersection during a steady yellow traffic signal without due caution,” said the recall notice, posted on NHTSA’s website.
Tesla will attempt to fix the the FSD feature, which costs $15,000, through an over-the-air software update, the notice added.
While Tesla CEO Elon Musk has not yet commented on the nature or scope of the problem, he tweeted that “the word “recall” for an over-the-air software update is anachronistic and just flat wrong!”
But NHTSA said in a statement that “manufacturers must initiate a recall for any repair, including a software update, that remedies an unreasonable risk to safety.” The federal agency said it will “continue to monitor the recall remedies for effectiveness.”
The notice said that the problems are present with all cars with the current version of the FSD software, which is available on all four Tesla models, the Model S, Model X, Model 3 and Model Y.
It also said Tesla has identified18 reports of incidents received between May 8, 2019, and September 12, 2022, that may be related to the conditions described above. It said Tesla is not aware of any injuries or deaths caused in those incidents. NHTSA itself has identified at least 273 crashes that involved one of Tesla’s driver assist systems.
A Troubled Development
FSD is considered key to the company’s basic business plan, given the premiums that drivers pay for the features, and it’s ability to attract buyers to chose Tesla cars in the first place. Tesla and Musk have repeatedly claimed that FSD, even in its current “beta” form, is safer than cars driven solely by humans. He told investors last month that Tesla has collected data from about 100 million miles of drivers using FSD outside of highways.
“Our published data shows that improvement in safety,” he said. “It’s very clear. So we would not have released the FSD Beta if the safety statistics were not excellent.”
But other safety experts have questioned the validity of Tesla’s safety claims. There have been high-profile accidents of Tesla cars using FSD or its more rudimentary predecessor known as “Autopilot.” Some of those accidents included fatalities.
NHTSA is also investigating that predecessor, Autopilot. That technology combines lane-keeping assist with adaptive cruise control to keep a car in a lane on a highway, as opposed to the promise of “full self-driving,” which Tesla says aims to one day be able to operate a vehicle without human supervision on a city street.
While “this recall seeks to address a specific set of concerns identified by the agency,” NHTSA’s statement said that this recall does not address its earlier investigations. “Accordingly, the agency’s investigation into Tesla’s Autopilot and associated vehicle systems remains open and active.”
Last month, Tesla disclosed in the company’s annual financial report that it “has received requests from the US Justice Department for documents related to Tesla’s Autopilot and FSD features.”
Musk has repeatedly predicted that the company would soon build a truly self-driving car. But it has also repeatedly pushed back its own self-imposed deadlines. Tesla owners have filed a class-action lawsuit over the predictions and missed deadlines, which is still pending.
“Mere failure to realize a long-term, aspirational goal is not fraud,” Tesla’s lawyers wrote in a November 28 court filing, asking that the suit be dismissed.
Musk has said for years that the price of “full self-driving” would increase periodically as it develops and moves closer to regulatory approval. He tweeted in May 2020 that when “full self-driving” had that approval, the feature would “probably” be worth more than “$100,000.” But as recently as a July 2021 call with investors, Musk said it was “debatable” that the feature was worth the $10,000 Tesla was charging at that time.
In September, when CNN Business spoke with 13 people who have cars with the “full self-driving” beta, the overwhelming majority, 11 people, said they felt it wasn’t worth $15,000. And it’s been the subject of controversy for years, including a recent ad that played during the Super Bowl in a few markets.
Tesla does not appear close to regulatory approval for “full self-driving.” In August of 2022, the California DMV said that the name “full self-driving” is “a deceptive practice” and grounds for suspending or revoking Tesla’s license to sell vehicles in the state.
Tesla, which has disbanded its public relations staff and has not responded to press inquiries for several years, could not be reached for comment.
CNN’s Matt McFarland contributed to this report.