Tesla On The Verge Of A "Formal Investigation" By The NHTSA

Just one day after the anniversary of "funding secured", we have learned that newly released documents indicate that the NHTSA could be preparing a "formal investigation" into Tesla, according to a former agency official that spoke to Bloomberg

The NHTSA has issued "at least five subpoenas" to the company since April 2018 for crash data, as was revealed in a FOIA request made by legal transparency group PlainSite. The NHTSA also asked the company for information about a sub-component of the Model 3 sedan's emergency braking system and sales figures of vehicles sold with and without Autopilot beginning in mid 2016. 

Frank Borris, a former director of the Office of Defects Investigation at NHTSA, said: “I think what this shows is that NHTSA has concerns about Autopilot performance. The subpoenas could mean the agency is gathering information that would be supportive of a formal investigation.”

The NHTSA responded, stating it was “committed to rigorous and appropriate safety oversight of the industry and encourages any potential safety issue be reported to NHTSA.”

Tesla hilariously suggested that they are the ones that required the subpoenas: “Any regulator like NHTSA would be interested in new vehicle technologies and how they make our highways safer. We routinely share information with the agency while also balancing the need to protect customer privacy. Tesla has required subpoenas when customer information is requested in order to protect the privacy of our customers.”

Regardless, Borris says that the use of subpoenas is "atypical" and could mean a "heightened degree of interest in Autopilot". 

He continued: 

“The fact that they’ve had to issue subpoenas about it indicates that NHTSA hasn’t been satisfied by Tesla’s responses, because that’s just not normal.” 

Data on the company's driver engagement was also included in NHTSA correspondence and was reviewed by David Friedman, a former deputy administrator at NHTSA during the Obama administration, who’s now vice president of advocacy at Consumer Reports.

He simply said: “Data like this show the system does not appear to be able to keep the driver engaged, and it’s one company, not the others in the space. To me, that raises real red flags about a possible defect.”

We can only guess who is carrying the "tone at the top" torch for driver disengagement, despite the company repeatedly warning that it requires drivers to have their hands on the wheel, even with Autopilot engaged. 

Two of the NHTSA subpoenas were issued on March 11, seeking information about a crash in Delray Beach, FL that we reported on here. The NHTSA and NTSB have both investigated numerous Tesla crashes in recent years. 

Recall, in May, Consumer Reports called for the NHTSA to open another inquiry into the company after publishing a study of automated driving systems in October. 

The NHTSA currently does not have an active defect probe ongoing into Tesla and may not open one. 

We covered the documents released as a result of the FOIA request in an article yesterday, which you can read here