Tesla Being Investigated Over Alleged Unintended Acceleration Issue
A NHTSA petition triggered an investigation that could impact up to 500,000 Teslas.
The U.S. government is looking into claims that certain Tesla vehicles suffer a defect that can cause sudden unintended acceleration. According to a petition filed with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), there have been 110 crashes and 52 injuries linked to the issue. Keep in mind that unintended acceleration is a buzzword both because the idea that a car might accelerate on its own, without input from the driver, is scary and because other automakers such as Toyota and Audi have in the past been tangled up with similar accusations.
This latest NHTSA petition cites 127 consumer complaints involving 123 unique Tesla vehicles. Around 500,000 vehicles are affected by the inquiry, including 2012-2019 Tesla Model S sedans, 2016-2019 Tesla Model X SUVs, and 2018-2019 Tesla Model 3 sedans.
One complaint references an alleged incident from November 2018 in which a Model X accelerated on its own while making a U-turn, even though the driver claims to have been pressing the brakes. The electric SUV apparently hit a parked vehicle and left the owner with bruises as a result. Another complaint from a Model S owner alleges the car accelerated unintentionally while pulling into a parking spot in 2013, causing it to hit a light post.
Tesla has not yet responded to our request for comment on the matter. But this situation on its face seems to closely mimic Toyota's relatively recent unintended acceleration scandal from 2010, when the automaker recalled millions of vehicles. Now, as then, things might not be so black-and-white. A NASA probe into Toyota found no evidence that an electronics malfunction caused unintended accelerations in the automaker's products. But government agencies identified other problems, namely sticky accelerator pedals and a design flaw allowing pedals to be trapped by floor mats. And in MotorTrend's testing on the matter, we determined that even if an electronic glitch were to befall a Toyota or any other contemporary vehicle that led to unintended throttle applications, modern braking systems are strong enough to overpower the engine and bring the car to a safe stop.
We'll have to wait and see what happens in Tesla's case. For now, NHTSA will review the findings and decide whether or not to open a formal defect investigation.
Update 1/21: Tesla posted a response to its corporate blog on January 20, 2020:
This petition is completely false and was brought by a Tesla short-seller. We investigate every single incident where the driver alleges to us that their vehicle accelerated contrary to their input, and in every case where we had the vehicle's data, we confirmed that the car operated as designed. In other words, the car accelerates if, and only if, the driver told it to do so, and it slows or stops when the driver applies the brake.
While accidents caused by a mistaken press of the accelerator pedal have been alleged for nearly every make/model of vehicle on the road, the accelerator pedals in Model S, X and 3 vehicles have two independent position sensors, and if there is any error, the system defaults to cut off motor torque. Likewise, applying the brake pedal simultaneously with the accelerator pedal will override the accelerator pedal input and cut off motor torque, and regardless of the torque, sustained braking will stop the car. Unique to Tesla, we also use the Autopilot sensor suite to help distinguish potential pedal misapplications and cut torque to mitigate or prevent accidents when we're confident the driver's input was unintentional. Each system is independent and records data, so we can examine exactly what happened.
We are transparent with NHTSA, and routinely review customer complaints of unintended acceleration with them. Over the past several years, we discussed with NHTSA the majority of the complaints alleged in the petition. In every case we reviewed with them, the data proved the vehicle functioned properly.
Source: NHTSA, Associated Press