Tesla in more hot water with NHTSA as feds ask about lack of recall for Autopilot update

If Tesla stays silent, it could face millions of dollars in fines and court action.

Sean Szymkowski
It all started with Gran Turismo. From those early PlayStation days, Sean was drawn to anything with four wheels. Prior to joining the Roadshow team, he was a freelance contributor for Motor Authority, The Car Connection and Green Car Reports. As for what's in the garage, Sean owns a 2016 Chevrolet SS, and yes, it has Holden badges.
Sean Szymkowski
2 min read
2021 Tesla Model Y
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2021 Tesla Model Y
Tim Stevens/Roadshow

Tesla and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration aren't exactly in lockstep with one another, following an investigation into the carmaker's Autopilot system that began earlier this year. However, NHTSA is once again asking Tesla for more information, this time pertaining to its potential failure of not filing a recall notice.

The Associated Press first reported on a letter NHTSA sent to Tesla's director of field quality, Eddie Gates, asking if the automaker should have filed recall documents when issuing an over-the-air update for Autopilot. This update, according to NHTSA's letter, provided updates to the system that help Teslas better identify emergency vehicles parked on the side of a road. NHTSA opened an investigation into these types of crashes earlier this year. 

"Any manufacturer issuing an over-the-air update that mitigates a defect that poses an unreasonable risk to motor vehicle safety is required to timely file an accompanying recall notice to NHTSA," the letter reads in part. NHTSA said in an additional statement it also wants to learn more about a reported non-disclosure agreement program between the automaker and early Full Self-Driving beta testers.

"The information request letter asks the company to provide information about its recent update to Autopilot software which Tesla claims improves detection of flashing emergency lights at night," a NHTSA spokesperson said. "It also requires Tesla to provide information about the expansion of its FSD early access beta release program. The second document is a Special Order that compels Tesla to provide information about non-disclosure agreements between Tesla and its vehicle owners."

Tesla does not operate a public relations department to field requests for comment. The law requires automakers to report a safety defect within five business days to NHTSA via recall notices and documents. Should Tesla continue to remain silent on this latest issue, the agency will take court action and levy $114 million in civil fines, the letter said.

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