Tesla’s ‘phantom brakes’ problem now under investigation by US government


The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it is investigating 416,000 Tesla vehicles after hundreds of complaints about unexpected braking. The investigation covers all Tesla Model 3 and Model Y vehicles released in 2021 and 2022.

Reports of “phantom brakes” first surfaced last fall, when Tesla was forced to roll back version 10.3 of its Full Self-Driving beta software, the company’s advanced driver assistance system, due to issues with forward collision warnings and phantom brakes.

But after the rollback, the number of complaints actually increased significantly, with the NHTSA receiving at least 107 complaints from November to January, compared to just 34 in the previous 22 months, according to the report. The Washington Post

In total, the NHTSA has received 354 complaints in the past nine months. “The complaints allege that while using ADAS features, including adaptive cruise control, the vehicle brakes unexpectedly while driving at highway speeds,” the report reads. Complainants report that the rapid deceleration can occur without warning, randomly and often repeatedly in a single driving cycle.

NHTSA’s Office of Defects Investigation is opening a “preliminary review,” the stage before the agency could issue a formal recall. To date, there have been no reports of accidents, injuries or fatalities from this problem, the report said.

Tesla owner Paul Reddy said he experiences phantom braking on “most long journeys” involving Autopilot and Traffic-Aware Cruise Control, two of Tesla’s advanced driver assistance features.

“Some are small – car slows down suddenly,” Reddy wrote in an email. “Some are downright dangerous, with the car hitting the brakes when you have a truck behind you. Since the sudden braking (and my sudden acceleration) will startle your passengers and any car behind you, I cannot use AP or TACC in traffic or with passengers in the car.

The problem can be traced to Tesla’s controversial decision last year to remove radar sensors from new Model 3 and Model Y vehicles. The decision came after Musk publicly expressed a desire to rely solely on cameras to power the company’s advanced driver assistance system.

Tesla has been criticized by safety advocates and regulators for its willingness to let its customers test what is essentially an unfinished version of a product that Musk has long promised will lead to fully autonomous vehicles on the road.

Earlier this week, the company was forced to release a software update to remove an FSD feature that allows cars to perform a “rolling stop” — a maneuver in which the vehicle moves slowly through a stop sign without coming to a complete stop. (A rolling stop is a common driving maneuver, despite it being illegal in all 50 US states.)

Tesla has issued 10 recalls since October due to a range of issues, from a faulty trunk locking mechanism to a faulty windshield defroster. The company is also being investigated for nearly a dozen incidents in which Tesla vehicles crash into stationary emergency vehicles while using Autopilot.

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