Tesla Autopilot Recall Deals A Major Blow to Self-Driving Cars

Jackson Wheeler
7 Min Read


  • Tesla is recalling more than 2 million Models 3, Y, S, and X for inadequately assuring that drivers pay attention and maintain control of the vehicles while using Autopilot.
  • The recall affects 2012-23 Model S, 2016-23 Model X, 2017-23 Model 3, and 2020-23 Model Ys—so, just about all of them.
  • The Tesla recalls will be achieved by an over-the-air software update, which was to begin deployment “on or shortly after” Tuesday, Dec. 12.

Two years after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration began investigating crashes of Tesla models set on its Autopilot self-driving feature and nearly two months after General Motors pulled its Cruise robotaxis permanently from the streets of San Francisco after high-profile accidents and mishaps, Tesla is recalling more than 2 million Models 3, Y, S, and X for inadequately assuring that drivers pay attention and maintain control of the vehicles while using Autopilot.

The recall centers on Tesla Autopilot’s Autosteer and Traffic-Aware Cruise Control (TACC) Level 2 driver-assistance that can provide steering, braking, and acceleration “support” to the driver under limited operating conditions.

“When Autosteer is engaged, as with all SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance features and systems, the driver is the operator of the vehicle,” according to NHTSA Safety Recall Report 23V-838.

“In certain circumstances when Autosteer is engaged, the prominence and scope of the feature’s controls may not be sufficient to prevent driver misuse of the SAE Level 2 advanced driver-assistance feature,” NHTSA says. The recall affects 2012-23 Model S, 2016-23 Model X, 2017-23 Model 3, and 2020-23 Model Ys—so, just about all of them.

Tesla says it did not agree with NHTSA’s analysis of the system, according to The Guardian. The EV maker has not had a public relations department for years, so we reached out to the company’s CEO, Elon Musk, on his privately owned social media site X (formerly Twitter) for comment. We have not yet received a reply—not even a “poop” emoji.

A Tesla owner with full self-driving software says it’s “not really useful enough at this point.”

Tesla’s “recall” will not require owners to drive their vehicles to any sort of service center. Rather, the recalls will be achieved by an over-the-air software update, which was to begin deployment “on or shortly after” Tuesday, Dec. 12, with “remaining” affected Teslas getting the software remedy “at a later date,” according to NHTSA. Teslas in production received the update at the factories, beginning Dec. 7.

In 2016, Musk declared that “The basic news is that all Tesla’s vehicles leaving the factory have all the hardware necessary for Level 5 autonomy,” The New York Times recalled in a Dec. 6, 2021, news story.

Over the past eight years, Musk has repeatedly touted Autopilot’s abilities and once told an earnings report conference call with stock analysts that he thought it irresponsible for any automaker to hold back on providing the latest self-driving technologies that could potentially save lives.

tesla autopilot version 8 brings more radar functions

NHTSA wants Tesla owners to know they need to keep hands on the wheel.

Tesla

While Musk once said Tesla owners are smart enough to understand the limitations of Autopilot’s “full self-driving” capabilities, there have been numerous social media videos by owners riding in the back seat as Autopilot operated their cars with no one behind the wheel. Here’s one of them, circa 2021, on YouTube.

According to the NHTSA recall report, when Autosteer or any other Level 2 system is engaged, “as the vehicle operator, the driver is responsible for the vehicle’s movement with their hands on the steering wheel at all times, remaining attentive to surrounding road conditions, and intervening … as needed to maintain safe operation.”

Last June, analyzing NHTSA data, The Washington Post reported that Autopilot software was involved in 17 fatalities and 736 crashes since 2019.

Last October, Musk told stock analysts in Tesla’s third-quarter earnings call that “full-self driving” software would be available for download before the end of this year, but added, “It won’t have regulatory approval at the time.”

We caught up with our Tesla Model Y-owning friend, “Pat,” for reaction to this recall.

“Tesla’s pretty good about pushing regular updates, sometimes with significant changes—often, but not always, improvements—to the car’s capabilities and functionality,” Pat replied.

“It’s hard to say for sure what they’re changing, but any pushes toward being more attentive don’t bother me much since I generally like being alive and try to remain so. Although I have the ‘full self-driving’ software for my car, it’s not really useful enough at this point that I use it all that much in my daily commute.”

Here’s the full NHTSA safety recall report.

How do you think this recall will impact the development of autonomous vehicle technology? Please comment below.

Headshot of Todd Lassa

Contributing Editor

As a kid growing up in Metro Milwaukee, Todd Lassa impressed childhood friends with his ability to identify cars on the street by year, make, and model. But when American automakers put an end to yearly sheetmetal changes, Lassa turned his attention toward underpowered British sports cars with built-in oil leaks. After a varied early journalism career, he joined Autoweek, then worked in Motor Trend’s and Automobile’s Detroit bureaus, before escaping for Mountain Maryland with his wife, three dogs, three sports cars (only one of them British), and three bicycles. Lassa is founding editor of thehustings.news, which has nothing to do with cars.

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Jackson Wheeler is a skilled editor at Speedofdaily.com, specializing in automotive content. With a background in Journalism and Automotive Engineering, he combines his passion for cars with his writing expertise to deliver captivating articles. Jackson's deep knowledge of automotive technology and his racing experience make him a valuable asset to the team, providing readers with informative and engaging content.
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